Special teams.Just by the name, the unit separates itself from all other units in a team. Yet, despite what your second-grade teacher might say, simply because something appears special doesn’t mean it’s all that special. Special teams is the area on many teams where second- and third-string players get their chance to see some playing time.That’s how it mostly was under Pete Carroll. Unless a kicker pulls a kick wide, the long snapper snaps the ball over the punter’s head or the return man muffs a punt, the unit remains like Michael Cera — you don’t know he’s there unless something happens to him.That’s all changed with new coach Lane Kiffin. With him, special teams really is special.Kiffin wasted no time in making it known that he was going to put a large emphasis on special teams. For the first 30 minutes of the first spring practice, Kiffin had every player participate in special teams drills. Linemen were catching punts and running backs were blocking kicks.Senior tailback C.J. Gable, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson and redshirt junior linebacker Chris Galippo have all said they’ve never spent as much time on special teams as they have this year.“We got more emphasis on it now,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot better now. Everyone’s paying a lot more attention to detail and everyone’s buying in, and we are just making big plays now.”The added emphasis has paid off, as already the Trojans have two returned kicks for touchdowns and blocked one field goal. To compare, in the last four years, the Trojans had a combined four kicks returned for touchdowns and it already has two in three games.“I would challenge that we put more time and dedication into our special teams than anybody in the country and it’s continued to pay off for us three games in a row,” Kiffin said.Not only has it continued to pay off, but it’s paid off at critical points in all three matches.The biggest momentum-turning play on special teams happened last week at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers, big underdogs, had just taken the lead in the third quarter, and you know how underdogs work. The longer you let them stick around, the more dangerous they become.Freshman wide receiver Robert Woods wanted no part in that, so he acted like the bully at school who steps on ants for fun and returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish.Then there was the Virginia game two weeks ago. With 3:49 left in the game, USC had a 17-7 lead, but Virginia was lining up for a 35-yard field goal attempt to make it a one-possession game. The last thing many Trojan fans expected was for Virginia to be within a touchdown that late in the game.Senior cornerback Shareece Wright made sure that didn’t happen. He twisted off the right side and blocked the kick to preserve the two possession game.Lastly, don’t forget about Hawai’i, when senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson returned an 89-yard punt, the longest for USC since 1992, in the third quarter to put the Warriors away.I would argue that without those three plays on special teams, USC would have one or two losses next to its name.How does this happen? How do you get a team that paid as much attention to special teams as a kindergartner does to broccoli to all of a sudden buy into the fact that the broccoli turned into chocolate?It’s great coaching by Kiffin and special teams coordinator John Baxter.“It brings a lot of trust,” Johnson said. “At first, last year a kick return, I didn’t trust it at all. Now Woods is hitting it full steam ahead and coach Baxter really installed a lot into us.”One person that Baxter needed to buy into the system is Galippo. The redshirt junior was a starting linebacker for the Trojans last year and now his playing time mostly comes on special teams. But instead of complaining about his demotion, Galippo has taken his new role very seriously.“It’s pretty special,” Galippo said. “Coach Baxter’s a heck of a coach. To be in week three and have two special teams touchdowns, they both came in critical points in the game that completely flopped the momentum — it just shows how important they are and how playing on special teams you’ve contributed to the team.”For Baxter, this is nothing new. Before coming to USC this year, he spent 13 years as special teams coordinator at Fresno State where he routinely turned out some of the best units in the country.The Bulldogs led the nation with 49 blocked kicks and punts between 2002-09 and scored 39 special teams touchdowns during Baxter’s time there. For those non-math majors out there (my chemical engineer roommate helped me out here), that means Baxter’s unit averaged three special teams’ touchdowns per year.“We’re not spending too much time,” Baxter said. “We’re spending what you should spend. They didn’t before. That’s not my fault. I got nothing to do with it. All I can control is what our staff does. You guys are used to watching [a team spend little time on special teams] but I’m not.”It’s because of Baxter and Kiffin that special teams has become special again at USC.“Spittin’ Sports” runs every Thursday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at email@example.com.
Kacey Washington is a planner, but the trip she took to Syracuse in September 2018 was unexpected. Her son Howard — then a sophomore guard for the Orange — suffered a stroke on the university’s campus. Kacey and Howard Sr., Washington’s father, rushed up to Syracuse the next day not knowing what to expect.They knew the details: The procedure to remove the two blood clots was successful. Doctors identified the cause, a hole in his heart undetected since birth, a repairable defect. But what Kacey had heard was too awful. So, she stared. She stared as her son ate, spoke, brushed his teeth, stood up from his chair. She wasn’t looking for anything — nothing at all. She hoped to not find any abnormalities. Kacey wanted to make sure her son did these things the same way he did before.“He was way too young to be going through stuff like that,” Washington Sr. said. “It was killing us inside.”In September of 2019, the Washingtons’ next visit had to be scheduled. Kacey and Howard Sr. set a weekend trip a few months ago to see Washington. Kacey texted Washington to see when he was available.“This is when we’ll be there,” Kacey asked. “What are you going to be doing?”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut there was a block of time that Washington couldn’t spend time with his parents. Since he told his story to the public in February 2019, Washington has made several visits to hospitals, done several interviews and tells the people he’s most thankful for that he appreciates them every day. Strangers ask him for advice, for positive thinking.He was way too young to be going through stuff like that. It was killing us inside.-Howard Washington Sr. on his son’s strokeFor a few hours that weekend, Kacey said Washington met with a kid in the hospital who had messaged him back and forth. He didn’t publish it on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. In fact, if his parents had not visited that weekend, they perhaps wouldn’t have known either, Kacey said. Washington needed to boost the kid’s spirits in the same way others had lifted him.“It’s kind of like a thank you,” Washington said. “When I can do stuff like that and help other people, I’ll definitely do that for sure.”Washington played in the Orange’s season opener 33 days after his stroke and has appeared in 16 games this season. In the months following the incident, he chose to morph his experience into a positive. Washington wasn’t just fine — in a way, he was transformed.It’s been more than a year since Washington went public with his stroke on Sept. 28, 2018. After watching the video of her son detailing his experience, Kacey sent Washington a text.“Are you changing your career to being a motivational speaker?” she said.Howard knew his mom was joking, and that he didn’t want to be a motivational speaker, but there are two ways this experience could have gone. The doctor who removed Washington’s blood clots assured associate athletic director for sports medicine Brad Pike that Washington, in many ways, was lucky. Washington had no permanent damage. Had it been a defect to Washington’s blood that produced the clots, the injury may have been career-ending, Kacey said.“Depending on your outlook on life, you can be like, ‘Woah, you can go whenever,’’’ Washington said. “You run into a scare like that, it’s kind of like, ‘Woah, that was close.’ I could see that. But I wasn’t really in that mindset when it was happening.”Since suffering the stroke Sept. 28, 2018 and the subsequent reveal a year ago, Washington has become a somewhat inspiring figure. He’s the survivor of a traumatizing experience, and since others don’t take that for granted, he won’t either. Washington routinely talks about his experience in public and private with the goal of helping people going through a similar thing.The experience hasn’t caused Washington to become scared about the realities of his own mortality, but rather wary of its unpredictability. He enjoys the simple moments. No conversation is a throwaway, and Washington said that he always wants to leave an impression on people because it may be his last chance.It’s kind of like a ‘thank you.’ When I can do stuff like that and help other people, I’ll definitely do that for sure.-Howard WashingtonHe thinks sharing his story is the only way that he could help others, so whenever someone asks, he relives it. The outpouring of support helped him, Washington said, so he wants to pay it forward.“He doesn’t need to even advertise to anybody,” Kacey said. “That’s extremely, extremely rare in my opinion.”He began to hear stories just like his own. A few months after his story ran, Washington texted his parents a link to an article. It was about current New Orleans Pelicans player Brandon Ingram and his battle with blood clots. Seeing someone at the highest level of his sport going through something similar made Washington feel like he wasn’t alone.Washington doesn’t have any family history of strokes. Nothing from his mother or father. This incident was a freak, life-threatening accident. But Washington handled it. Now, he wants to help others get through it too.“I don’t like to compare my story to anybody else’s, or whatever it may be,” Washington said. “But it definitely gives you a little insight into people who do go through this. And with stuff like that, it’s good to talk about it and get it out there.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 26, 2020 at 10:49 pm Contact Michael: firstname.lastname@example.org | @MikeJMcCleary
A teenager died in a fatal stabbing after a reported street fight in south London.Francois Kablan, 19, was found with fatal stab wounds in Southwark at 5.30 pm on Wednesday and pronounced dead at the scene.He was found on Great Dover Street after reports of several men fighting nearby.The Harlow reserves football manager, Adam Connolly, said: “Francois was a wonderful person and player. A lot of our players went to the same college as Francois, so it’s been hard on everyone within the squad to hear of this tragic news.“On his last game for Harlow, he scored a superb hat-trick to win us the game and walk away with the match ball. He was certainly a talented footballer and one who could have gone on to feature for the first team.“On behalf of all of the squad, and everyone at the club, our thoughts are with his family and friends.”The Metropolitan police said three males aged between 15 and 20 and an 18-year-old woman were arrested near the scene on suspicion of murder. Two of the males, aged 15 and 17, remain in police custody and the two other people arrested have been released on bail.DCI Kate Kieran said: “Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Francois. This is a tragic loss of life of a young man and we will continue to investigate to ensure justice.”A fundraiser has been set up for Kablan and so far reached £2,700, against its £1,000 target. The money donated will go towards helping the 19-year-old’s family.Other clubs across Essex, including Witham Town, Epping Town, Bowers and Pitsea and Essex Alliance Football League, have shared messages of support on social media. Source: The Guardian