It's 7:30 on a recent Friday morning at USC, long after spring practice has ended but still a few weeks shy of summer camp. Yet here are the Trojans, most of the team, on the practice field running plays.
And in the middle of everything stands Aaron Corp, wearing his USC cap backward, calling plays, taking snaps, throwing passes.
He already has been named the starter at quarterback. But his hold is tenuous. There will be plenty of official practices before the team's Sept. 5 opener against San Jose State at the Coliseum. So he's here trying to solidify his role as a leader and prove that he's a better option than the other talented quarterbacks on the roster.
"I think he's kind of assumed that quarterback leadership," wide receiver Damian Williams said. "He's trying to take control of the team. I think he's the general that you need on the field; he's got to have that kind of look."
Corp, a redshirt sophomore, has been given the nod by Coach Pete Carroll over freshman Matt Barkley and junior Mitch Mustain. Mustain played with Williams in high school and at Arkansas before they transferred to USC.
Pressure from Barkley, who graduated from Santa Ana Mater Dei High a semester early to enroll at USC and participate in spring drills, and Mustain, who won eight games while at Arkansas in 2006, drives Corp to succeed.
"Definitely," Corp said when asked if he feels pressure from the tight competition. "And that's what's driving me to get better.
"Any time we have lifting or any competition of any kind, it's time to show what you've got and so it really helps me, I think, in terms of just improving overall."
The lineage of USC quarterbacks under Carroll, from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart to John David Booty to Mark Sanchez, doesn't faze Corp. He's doing his own thing.
"I'm not trying to compare myself to any of those guys, so it really doesn't matter to me," he said.
At 6 feet 4 and 195 pounds, Corp gets the ball to his receivers just fine.
"They actually feel really crisp, a nice crisp, on-the-point throw," junior receiver David Ausberry said of Corp's passes. "Easy balls to catch, very accurate."
But junior running back Allen Bradford said that of the three, Barkley has the strongest arm. "It just comes and it's there," he said of Barkley's throws. "Corp, he can launch it, though."
Corp lifts weights regularly and eats a lot to bulk up. Steak and potatoes are his muscle-building foods of choice.
"Those are the main things I've been focusing on, throwing and getting bigger," he said.
Williams said Corp's passing skills hold their own, but Corp's working to become stronger also speaks to his character.
"The fact that he's making that effort shows great strides that he wants to be one of the best," Williams said.
Jim Kunau, Corp's coach at Orange Lutheran High, echoed Williams and said Corp's attitude has always been about the team first.
"He's got a strong rudder on his ship," Kunau said. "Aaron is going to be extremely team-oriented and is going to want to serve the interests of his team."
Corp adds another dimension to the offense as a runner. He's fast and elusive, and it shows even when he drops back to hand the ball off to a tailback. The quick feet, combined with a 4.65 40-yard dash, give Corp the potential to rescue broken plays.
"He was a threat to take it to the house on any given play," Kunau said.
The abridged rules of spring practice, Corp said, hindered his ability to make plays with his feet.
"My first instinct is to try to make a guy miss," he said. "And in spring we got the yellow jerseys on, you know, they can't tackle us. If they get one finger on us they usually call it a sack."
However, he said, "First and foremost I'm looking to pass, and those guys that are running routes are faster than me."
Those guys who are running routes enjoy Corp's mobility because knowing their quarterback can buy time if necessary frees them to develop their patterns.
"When we're getting second-and-six or third-and-five situations, defenses have to respect his legs because it's nothing for him to take three steps and get a first down," Williams said.
And if he does tuck and run?
"If he takes off and scrambles, I'm going to take off and block," Ausberry said.
Corp said the USC playbook feels like "second nature" now, which helped him find his secondary receivers during spring practice.
"A lot of it was just making the right decision with the ball and not trying to force things," he said.
In high school, Kunau said, the combination of Corp's intuition and physical skills helped him work through his passing progressions.
"He's very instinctive," Kunau said. "He's extremely athletic; very, very quick. His decision-making ability was outstanding."
But it can't be all work and no play, so Corp also tries to keep spirits up.