Looking back, there are times Marc Tyler still cannot believe it.
After a sensational high school career that ended prematurely because of a broken leg, Tyler opted to pass on scholarship offers from Notre Dame and others to sign with USC in 2007.
Never mind that he would be one of 10 scholarship tailbacks on the Trojans roster.
"I don't know what I was thinking," Tyler said, chuckling. "I was hurt and I knew they had a lot of running backs. But I thought USC was the best place for me."
Despite a career that has been stalled by injuries and the tailback logjam, Tyler still feels the same way.
The NCAA in June meted out sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban and an exemption that allowed USC juniors and seniors to transfer without having to sit out a season.
Tyler, a fourth-year junior from Lancaster, was regarded as a leading candidate to bolt in search of playing time elsewhere, especially after a redshirt season and two others of limited opportunities.
But the draw of completing a USC degree and the chance to finally show what he could do on the field convinced Tyler to stay. And after an off-season regimen helped him lose more than 10 unwanted pounds, he has been a surprise in training camp as the Trojans prepare for their Sept. 2 opener at Hawaii.
"I just want to stay healthy," he said. "If I do that, everything will work out fine."
Tyler adopted that line of thinking when he arrived at USC from Westlake Village Oaks Christian High. The son of former UCLA and NFL running back Wendell Tyler had suffered a broken leg in a playoff game his senior year and spent his first season at USC rehabilitating from the injury.
Several of his father's former NFL teammates, including former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig and quarterback Joe Montana, called to offer encouragement.
"They're like, 'Anything can happen in football. Guys can leave and guys can get hurt. Stay at 'SC and wait it out and things are going to happen for you,'" Tyler said at the time.
He kept that thought in mind during his redshirt season and also in 2008, when depth at the position and a hip injury kept him sidelined most of the season. In 2009, Tyler broke off a 63-yard run and also scored a touchdown in the opener against San Jose State. However, he sat out the rest of the season because of a toe injury.
Tyler had surgery a few months later and started running only a week before the opening of spring practice.
At 5 feet 11, 230 pounds, he did not make a terrific first impression on new Coach Lane Kiffin and his staff.
"I felt horrible," Tyler said, shaking his head.
But he also was inspired.
During the summer, Tyler worked out daily at USC and, separately, with his father, shedding 12 pounds.
"I was just trying to show him how it important it is, that if you want to be a professional you have to do extra work," Wendell Tyler said.
The added effort and reduced weight appear to be paying off. Kiffin has repeatedly noted Tyler's improved performance during camp, and Tyler is challenging seniors Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable and sophomore Curtis McNeal for snaps.
That comes as no surprise to Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell.
"If he gets back to what he was playing at in high school, he'll be able to show that speed and quickness," Redell said. "At 215 to 220, he's a lot better than [at] 230."
Tyler said that although his playing time has been limited the last two seasons — he has rushed for 270 yards, caught a pass and scored three touchdowns — he has benefitted from his USC experience.
He cited having played in practice against NFL first-round draft picks such as defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis and linebackers Keith Rivers and Brian Cushing. And he has been tutored by two former NFL running backs coaches in Todd McNair and now Kennedy Pola.
"I think scouts know what it is to be a USC player," Tyler said. "If you're not in the right position you're going to have to wait. Even one [productive] year here, you're going to be fine."
Tyler, father of a 10-month-old daughter named Aaliyah, said he was on track to graduate with a degree in sociology.
Now, he just needs an opportunity on the field.
Bradford and Gable are the only tailbacks remaining from the other nine who were at USC when Tyler arrived. Several exhausted their eligibility. Others transferred or left early for the NFL.
"I feel like I've put myself in a better position," Tyler said. "There's only four of us now, so anything can happen. I'm just going to be ready."