Music blared during portions of USC's first bowl practice Monday, but the noise could not drown out a weighty, unmistakable silence that hung over Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.
For one of only a few times since 2010 — and the first time in nine weeks — Ed Orgeron's gravelly baritone was not booming across the facility.
USC began preparations for the Dec. 21 Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State under the guidance of Clay Helton. The Trojans' offensive coordinator was named interim coach for the bowl game after Orgeron resigned as interim coach following Steve Sarkisian's hiring last week.
"It was weird coming out and Coach O not being there," said quarterback Cody Kessler.
With Sarkisian quietly observing from the sidelines, the Trojans went through drills for the first time since their Nov. 30 loss to UCLA. Two days after that defeat, Sarkisian was hired and Orgeron, who had replaced the fired Lane Kiffin, left the program.
Helton and assistant coaches energetically put players through a short workout, one of seven practices the Trojans will have before departing for Las Vegas on Dec. 18.
Receiver Marqise Lee said players were focused and that they would "take advantage" of the opportunity to play in the bowl game "as much as we can."
Sarkisian said the Trojans' spirit and energy was "awesome" for a team that had been through so much.
"They looked energized, they looked refreshed and they looked like a good-looking football team," he said. "I can't wait to coach them."
Of walking through the gates of the facility, Sarkisian said, "It feels like I never left." He continues to recruit and assemble his staff.
"We're getting to the point now where we have a really good idea what the staff's going to look like," he said.
Sarkisian hired former Washington assistants Johnny Nansen, Keith Heyward and Peter Sirmon. He also has announced that receivers coach Tee Martin will be retained.
Sarkisian said there is a possibility that other assistants also could remain, but some have been notified "this is their last shot here and go make it a great one."
Helton said he was honored to have the opportunity to lead the team in the bowl game.
"You'd love to be in that media guide one day as the coach that went 1-0," he joked. "That would be nice."
Grimble leans toward staying
Junior tight end Xavier Grimble, one of several draft-eligible players, is looking forward to playing in his hometown of Las Vegas, and to playing for the Trojans next season.
"I feel like with everything that happened this season, I think it would be best for me to stay in school," said Grimble, who was slowed by injuries much of the season. "So that's probably what I'm going to be doing."
Junior center Marcus Martin, who suffered a leg injury against UCLA, will not play in the bowl game, Helton said. Sixth-year senior Abe Markowitz will start in his place. Junior offensive lineman Aundrey Walker is out after having season-ending ankle surgery the day after the loss to the Bruins….Walk-on Nate Guertler, who has been filling in at tight end, will return to tackle…. Trojans players will receive a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, a beanie, a cap, a backpack, a football and a gift card to a clothing/shoe store as bowl gifts.