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Sanchez gets the nod at USC

Fourth-year junior will enter fall camp as the starting quarterback, though the coaches tell Mustain that the competition isn't over.

April 16, 2008|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

The only surprise about the outcome was the timing, not the decision.

Mark Sanchez finished USC's quarterback competition Tuesday in the same place he started it -- as the acknowledged leader.

The Trojans still have three spring workouts left, including Saturday's scrimmage at the Coliseum, but the coaching staff did not want to wait any longer in selecting a successor to John David Booty.

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian made it official before practice when he met with Sanchez, Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp individually and told them that Sanchez, the fourth-year junior, was the No. 1 quarterback.

"He said, 'I just want to give you a little forewarning: You're it, man. You're the guy. You've proven it and we believe in you,' " Sanchez said, grinning.

Sanchez entered spring practice as the front-runner for the job after starting three games last season. He struggled at times through the first two weeks but asserted himself in workouts leading up to last Saturday's scrimmage.

"At this point, for the good of our football team I like where we're at with Mark," Sarkisian said.

So does Coach Pete Carroll.

"The advantage that Mark has had by being around . . . just gives him a decisive advantage and he was able to come out here and battle and throw the ball well and play with confidence and give himself the spot," Carroll said.

Sanchez is likely to keep it.

For all of his talk about competition, the Trojans under Carroll have never gone into a summer without a designated starting quarterback who ultimately started the season opener. Carroll inherited Carson Palmer before the 2001 season, and he and former offensive coordinator Norm Chow selected Matt Leinart as the starter on the eve of the season-ending spring scrimmage in 2003. Booty missed nearly all of spring practice in 2006 because of back surgery, but he was regarded as the starter going into the summer.

Now, Sanchez will have the responsibility of organizing and running summer workouts as USC prepares for training camp and its opener at Virginia.

Sanchez said throughout the first 11 spring workouts that he was confident he would win the job. But he acknowledged feeling relief when Sarkisian gave him the news.

"I'm really excited," Sanchez said. "A lot of hard work paid off and it's just a tremendous honor for me. . . . I've got to remember it's an ongoing competition and there's two great competitors behind me and it never ends.

"So, I can't let up now and I need to prove I'm the starter every day and every rep and on and off the field."

Mustain, who was 8-0 as a starter at Arkansas in 2006, wasn't surprised by the decision to go with Sanchez. But he said he would continue to compete for the job until the team was on the field at Virginia. "They didn't say it was over," he said. "Until they give me that, I'm going to keep playing."

Offensive lineman Jeff Byers is confident Sanchez will take advantage of his opportunity.

"It lets Mark really develop a presence to get guys responding to him in the huddle," Byers said. "Just having that starter status is such a big thing that produces so much respect. He's going to do great."

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USC attempts to keep sports agents out of practices, but Scott Boras and Avengers owner Casey Wasserman were among the onlookers Tuesday. Carroll said Boras, who was on campus to speak before a group, was a college fraternity brother and that he saw no conflict because Boras represents baseball players. Wasserman, a UCLA alum and ardent Bruins booster, is the owner of Wasserman Media Group, which, among other interests, represents athletes. A spokesman said the company doesn't represent football players. Wasserman said he attended practice at the invitation of Carroll, who had met with Wasserman to discuss getting involved in Carroll's "A Better L.A." project. . . . During the Trojans' most spirited practice of the spring, tailback Allen Bradford broke off another long touchdown run and linebacker Rey Maualuga delivered several ferocious hits. . . . Former USC coach John Robinson also attended practice.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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