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Norton accuses UCLA of using him in recruiting pitches

COLLEGE FOOTBALL : USC FYI

December 29, 2008|Gary Klein

USC and UCLA played nearly a month ago, but the rivalry rages even as the Trojans prepare for the Rose Bowl against Penn State.

USC assistant coach Ken Norton Jr. on Sunday lashed out at UCLA for allegedly using him as bait to lure recruits to Westwood and discourage them from joining the Trojans.

Norton, a former All-American linebacker for the Bruins, said UCLA has told prospective players that he would be joining Coach Rick Neuheisel's staff if defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker leaves for another job.

"It's coming from there and it's wrong and it's not true," said Norton, who has coached linebackers on Coach Pete Carroll's USC staff since 2004. "So if you're going to recruit, recruit what you have. . . . Don't try to recruit, saying I'm coming over there.

"And I'm not saying I'm a big deal. I'm just saying you've made it a big deal by using me as some kind of target or ploy or something."

Walker is scheduled to interview today for the head coaching job at New Mexico State. He was previously connected to openings at Utah State and San Diego State.

Speculation surrounding Norton's possible return to UCLA circulated during Karl Dorrell's tenure with the Bruins and after Neuheisel was hired to replace Dorrell before this season.

Last January, Norton said he spoke with Neuheisel and Walker about joining the UCLA staff as an assistant head coach, but he opted to remain with the Trojans.

"I'm flattered. They'll always be a team in my heart," Norton said at the time of the Bruins. "I feel real good about Rick Neuheisel and what he's going to do there."

But Sunday, Norton referenced Neuheisel's troubled tenures at Colorado and Washington, saying, "It's kind of a pattern of what happened in the past."

Neuheisel, apprised of Norton's comments, said, "I have no comment to that. I've had no contact with Kenny."

Norton also said he has had no recent contact with Neuheisel. "It's important that it's known that I'm here and I'm staying here," Norton said. "I just think the recruits should know that. The fans should know that."

The first day football recruits can sign national letters of intent is Feb. 4.

"I've found over the years what you say in recruiting kind of tells who you are," Carroll said. "The truth always comes out in the end."

Rhett Ellison in

With fullback Stanley Havili's status for the Rose Bowl uncertain because of academic issues and an ankle injury, tight end Rhett Ellison continues to get work in the backfield.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Ellison started at fullback against UCLA. If Havili is not cleared to play against Penn State, Ellison could share time with freshman D.J. Shoemate, running backs coach Todd McNair said.

Kevin Ellison out

Senior safety Kevin Ellison, who has not practiced since the UCLA game because of a knee injury, said he would not play against Penn State.

Carroll said after practice it would take a sudden change of condition for Ellison to play in Thursday's game, but Ellison said his season was over.

Quick kicks

Their grass fields mushy from last week's rain and Saturday's practice, the Trojans moved their afternoon workout off campus a few blocks to Soni McAlister Field, home of USC's women's soccer team. Dennis Slutak, director of football operations, said the Trojans first tried to secure the Coliseum, but couldn't because it was a Sunday and on short notice. . . . Tailback Stafon Johnson (kneecap) and receiver Damian Williams (shoulder) participated in most drills and are on track to play in the Rose Bowl. . . .USC participated in the annual Beef Bowl at Lawry's restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Times staff writer Chris Foster contributed to this report.

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gary.klein@latimes.com

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