The machine droned on, firing one tennis ball after another at USC receiver Nelson Agholor.
The freshman from Florida, standing about 10 yards away, alternated hands and smoothly caught more than 100 balls Monday in what has become a daily post-practice ritual.
With less than two weeks remaining before the Trojans' Sept. 1 opener against Hawaii, he is locked in a competition with junior De'Von Flournoy, sophomore George Farmer and redshirt freshman Victor Blackwell for the Trojans' No. 3 receiver spot.
"I came here because I knew it was going to be a challenge," Agholor said.
USC Coach Lane Kiffin rarely misses a chance to favorably compare Agholor's preparation to that of junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee, who were Freshman All-Americans.
In 2010, Woods caught 65 passes, six for touchdowns. Lee had 73 receptions, 11 for touchdowns, last season.
Agholor noted Woods' "cerebral approach" and Lee's work ethic, saying he also was emulating their competitiveness and film-study habits.
"I'm really just trying to follow," he said.
The 6-foot-1 Agholor played running back, receiver and defensive back at Tampa (Fla.) Berkeley Prep High, rushing for 28 touchdowns as a senior.
During players-only summer workouts, he worked at receiver and impressed older Trojans with his physical skills and dedication.
However, shortly before training camp began Kiffin announced that Agholor would move to tailback because of depth issues. Though it was a not-so-subtle ploy by Kiffin to lure tailback Silas Redd to transfer from Penn State, Agholor was prepared to switch to the backfield.
"If it meant I was going to play tailback here and it was what the team needed, that was what was going to happen," Agholor said.
Redd signed on with the Trojans, leaving Agholor to compete for a spot in the receivers rotation.
Agholor said he has gained 10 pounds since arriving at USC this summer and is up to 193 pounds.
Can he achieve freshman success similar to Woods and Lee?
"It would be wonderful to have a season like both of those guys, but I'm Nelson Agholor," he said, "and I'm here to compete and help the Trojans do well this season."
Quarterback Matt Barkley, who played in three to four scrimmages during previous training camps, is unconcerned that the Trojans will have scrimmaged only twice before their opener.
Barkley had two passes intercepted Sunday at the Coliseum in what Kiffin said would be the final scrimmage because of depth and potential injury issues.
"It was good to kind of get it out of our mix so it doesn't happen again," Barkley said after leading an offense that practiced with more urgency Monday.
The scrimmage served as a wake-up call, he said.
"For guys who don't know where to line up or missed assignments and everything, it's kind of like, 'All right, you've got to kind of grow up now,'" Barkley said. "'It's time to make plays. Time to know your stuff or else you're going to hold us back.'"
The $70-million John McKay Center, a 110,000-square-foot athletics building, will be formally dedicated Tuesday…. Kiffin said USC is still awaiting word on the academic status of cornerback Isiah Wiley and linebacker Marquis Simmons, who have not practiced. Incoming freshman receiver Darreus Rogers is still awaiting clearance from the NCAA Eligibility Center, Kiffin said.