Chris Galippo envisioned a methodical path into the starting lineup when he arrived at USC in the fall of 2007:
Play as a reserve behind a Butkus Award candidate, then gradually take over the middle linebacker position.
A back injury, however, forced Galippo to have surgery and redshirt after three games last season. A second back surgery 13 weeks ago kept him out of practice and off the sideline for the first three games this season.
But when the ninth-ranked Trojans play No. 23 Oregon on Saturday, Galippo could be in the starting lineup. If senior Rey Maualuga remains sidelined because of a knee sprain, Galippo might be running the defense for a team looking to bounce back from an upset loss at Oregon State.
"Sometimes opportunity's just thrown at you and you just have to be ready for it," Galippo said Tuesday after his second full practice.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Galippo was regarded as the leader of the 2007 recruiting class, a player who made an early commitment to the Trojans out of Anaheim Servite High and then urged others to join him.
But Galippo's back problems, along with those of fourth-year junior Luthur Brown, left the Trojans thin in the middle.
Galippo was cleared for full contact last week.
"It's his moment so he needs to prepare as well as he can," Coach Pete Carroll said. "We need to figure out if it's fair to him with the amount of preparation he's had to put him out there."
Maualuga was examined by doctors Tuesday and will not require surgery, an athletic department official said. Maualuga said he would try to return for the game against the Ducks.
"I'm not counting Rey out," Carroll said.
But Galippo is preparing for his moment.
"I shook off a little more rust and I'm getting back into it," Galippo said. "My back feels great. It's just a matter of waking up with a little more of a football ache that I'm not really used to."
Hazelton to redshirt?
Junior Vidal Hazelton, who caught more passes than any USC wide receiver last season but has fallen behind sophomore transfer Damian Williams, said he had spoken to Carroll about the possibility of redshirting.
Hazelton started against Virginia and caught five passes for 33 yards but suffered a high ankle sprain. He did not catch a pass against Ohio State or Oregon State.
"I would take a redshirt year because a lot of things are going on right now," said Hazelton, who practiced Tuesday.
"I think it would be good for me to just grow up as a person too."
Carroll said he did not know whether Hazelton's ankle would preclude him from playing the rest of the season.
"He needs to battle his way back to get his plays," Carroll said.
As a freshman in 2005, Mark Sanchez watched quarterbacks Matt Leinart and John David Booty struggle through minor injuries each week and thought, "C'mon man. Playing quarterback is easy."
"I know exactly where they were coming from now," Sanchez said Tuesday.
Sanchez taped the right ankle he said he "tweaked" during the game against Oregon State and also wore a bandage on his left elbow for an abrasion suffered while diving out of bounds.
"It's just a long season," said Sanchez, who has passed for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions. "You're never really going to be 100% and those aches and pains are here."
Bradford, Carroll meet
Tailback Allen Bradford met with Carroll before practice. Bradford told The Times on Monday that he was frustrated because he did not carry the ball once against Oregon State.
"Really competitive people want to contribute," Carroll said. "I expect that attitude. Hopefully, guys get their chances."
Kicker David Buehler suffered a sprained ligament in his right knee during practice but said he would be available Saturday. . . . Carroll on fired Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, formerly USC's co-offensive coordinator: "Would I have him back someday? Yeah, but we probably can't touch him. I think he's beyond that. He's going to be a head coach again real soon I would think."