Lincoln Riley feels momentum gathering for USC in spring

USC Spring Game
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LOS ANGELES – For a coach charged with the monumental task of raising a prestigious college football program from its lowest depths in three decades, Lincoln Riley looked quite content after Southern California’s spring game.

Running out of the historic Coliseum tunnel in front of a cheering home crowd for the first time on a sun-kissed Saturday in Los Angeles left Riley even more confident he’s leading the Trojans in the right direction.

“If you’re in this city and you don’t feel the momentum around this program, you’re not paying attention,” Riley said.

Coaches frequently attempt to speak such feelings into existence, but the renewed excitement at USC isn’t just coach-speak. The Trojans went through their scrimmage in front of 33,427 fans – the largest crowd to attend the spring game since the school began keeping track in the 1990s.

A vast fan base is clearly renewing its passion for a program that mostly gave angst to its faithful in the past half-decade. USC’s success in recruiting and in the transfer market also have skyrocketed since Riley’s hiring less than five months ago, headlined by the arrival of Heisman Trophy hopeful Caleb Williams as the Trojans’ top quarterback.

In another sign of the renewed interest around USC, the spring game was broadcast nationally on ESPN. But winning is the most important step, and Riley believes the Trojans will be ready to do much more of it in his debut season.

“Today was a great example of the progress that’s been made in a really short time,” Riley said. “I thought the day was really representative of how the entire spring has gone.”

Many fans traveled downtown to the Coliseum to get their first look at Williams, the Oklahoma transfer with a smooth release and impressive poise in the pocket. The sophomore completed every pass he threw in the first half of the spring game, including two touchdown passes to Mario Williams, another ex-Sooner who followed Riley to the West Coast.

Caleb Williams’ talents are obvious, but he intends to supplement them by being a vocal leader for a roster with many players who just met this spring. He’s eager to take on a central role in what’s certain to be a year full of unique challenges, and he isn’t daunted by the pressure of following the Heisman winners whose jersey numbers are honored in the Coliseum’s famed Peristyle end.

“I don’t really get nervous,” Williams said with a smile. “It was really cool. Hopefully we get to pack it out really soon. Coming out here and getting in front of the fans, having ESPN and all that, showing the public what we’re going to be – we’re not even close to what we actually are going to be, so it’s awesome.”

A huge chunk of the Trojans’ current roster arrived at the school after Riley, who conducted a thorough overhaul of a wildly imbalanced talent pool left behind by Clay Helton‘s staff. USC will have more new players than holdovers at its skill positions, and the defense has undergone a thorough overhaul.

The roster changes have only just begun, too. The Trojans intend to sign a healthy second crop of transfers in the next few weeks while spring football ends across the country, bolstering their depth chart across the board.

“I don’t know that there’s one position that we’re so anemic that we can’t go and compete right now,” Riley said. “We just need a little bit everywhere, if that makes sense.”

The fans and recruits in attendance might not have paid much attention to the perfect weather and the Coliseum’s clear views from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, but they saw what Riley is building on the field.

The regular season starts Sept. 3 when Rice visits the Coliseum, and former Alabama linebacker Shane Lee thinks the Trojans will be ready to impress even more fans.

“We’ve put in a lot of work, and it’s amazing to see the progress since I got here,” Lee said. “We’re bringing in guys that fit our culture and our scheme. I’m excited to see where it’s going.”

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.