Morgan Breslin sacks Cal quarterback Zach Maynard. (Harry How / Getty Images )
Morgan Breslin does not want to talk.
The USC defensive end has declined all interview requests this season. And he doesn't want to discuss the reasons for that, either.
"No comment," he says politely as he walks off the field after practice.
So maybe he still feels as if he has to prove himself?
Breslin, sporting a crew cut and a few days' growth of beard, chuckles and breaks into a jog toward the locker room.
But what about the immediate impact he's had, so many big plays in his first four games?
"No comment," he repeats, pushing the pace.
Those who know Breslin — teammates, current and former coaches, teachers — say the self-imposed vow of silence is consistent for a player who is never satisfied with his performance and always believes he can do more.
In USC's last game, with the Trojans' line thinned because of injuries, Breslin played every defensive snap against California. He recorded the first of his game-high 41/2 tackles for loss on Cal's first offensive play, then capped his performance with a sack on the Bears' last play.
Not that anyone would know from listening to Breslin.
"We don't hear him talk," USC Coach Lane Kiffin says. "All he says is 'Fight on.'"
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron also gets the silent treatment.
"All he ever tells me," Orgeron says, "is 'Yessir, coach.' Then he goes out and plays hard."
Through four games, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Breslin has been one of college football's most effective defensive players. He is tied for fifth nationally with 91/2 tackles for loss and is seventh with 51/2 sacks.
When the Trojans went searching for a player who could fill the void left by first-round NFL draft pick Nick Perry — and the team-best 91/2 sacks the Green Bay Packers rookie recorded last season — they did not anticipate immediate results.
But those who remember Breslin as a high school and junior college player in Northern California are not surprised.
Doug Longero, his coach at Las Lomas High in Walnut Creek, played Breslin at fullback and defensive end. Longero keeps a photograph of Breslin in his office. It was taken during a playoff game, after Breslin's helmet popped off and he was cleated in the forehead. Blood trickles down Breslin's determined face, Longero says in a phone interview, as he walks the sideline.
"It's meaningful to me because he's such a high-motor, blue-collar kid who loves to play," Longero says. "And he'll never, ever come out and say he's doing well — because he never thinks he's doing anything special. He always wants to do better."
To maintain his edge, and to stay in shape, Breslin competed for the Diablo youth rugby club during his final two years of high school. His coach, Nigel Carter, played Breslin at the number eight position, which Carter describes as a combination of outside linebacker and tight end.
The same attributes that Breslin displays on the football field — speed, power, smarts and relentless determination — served him well on the rugby pitch.
"If he had continued on," Carter says, "he probably could have played at the highest level in the U.S., if not overseas."
A foot injury that Breslin suffered while playing rugby in the spring of 2009 changed the trajectory of his football career.
According to his former coaches, Breslin's high school academic record necessitated that he attend a community college. And the foot injury prevented him from playing in the fall of 2009.
So, Breslin enrolled in fewer than 12 units for the fall semester at Diablo Valley College. That move delayed the start of his eligibility clock — the NCAA allows athletes five years to complete four years of eligibility once they enroll as full-time students — and enabled Breslin to get a head start on earning an associate of arts degree so he could transfer to a four-year school in January after his sophomore season.
It also gave him a year to get stronger in the weight room.
"It ended up being a blessing in disguise," Diablo Valley Coach Mike Darr says of the injury.
Once Breslin got onto the practice field in 2010, it did not take long to make an impression.
Coaches kept their eye on Breslin during practices. If they didn't, he sneaked additional reps with the scout team. When it came time for conditioning, Breslin ran with speedier defensive backs to push himself.
Early in the season, when he was playing in a rotation with other linemen, Breslin approached defensive line coach John Morales on the sideline during a game. He did not make eye contact, staring straight out onto the field.
"Coach," Morales recalls Breslin saying. "I don't mean any disrespect, but I want you to know I never get tired."
Says Darr: "His motor is unmatched. And it's every day, all day."
Breslin recorded a state-leading 141/2 sacks as a freshman. As a sophomore, he again led the state with 131/2 sacks.
Meantime, he also developed into a disciplined student.