December 2, 2008

Practice Insider: Hazelton reaction

Inside the Trojan football program, so little is ever etched in stone.

Just because a player was the team's top returning receiver at the start of the year is no guarantee that player will have as big of a role in the offense in any given week.

Vidal Hazelton caught more passes in 2007 than any other player on USC's current roster. Tuesday, Hazelton's name was no longer on that roster.

USC head coach Pete Carroll said he signed paperwork releasing Hazelton from his scholarship, opening the door for the junior wide receiver to transfer closer to his home.

"He came to us and wanted to transfer. I signed some release papers for him today. We're going to do whatever we can to help him," Carroll said. "In the competition of everything here, he thought it would be better to get somewhere else."

Hazelton is the second Trojan to transfer this season, joining running back Broderick Green, who will enroll at Arkansas in January.

Like Green, a family illness played a role in Hazelton's decision to transfer. Unlike Green, Hazelton said playing time also played a role.

"It's tough to be here. It's a challenge to be here," Carroll said. "Sometimes it might be better off for someone to go somewhere else, particularly when they have other issues that coincide. For these guys, I think it made sense."

Hazelton also had to deal with a significant slide down the USC depth chart.

"He was a No. 1 guy," wide receivers coach John Morton said. "When you lose your starting spot, obviously, you struggle with it. It was my job to help him through it, to help him through adversity. He's a competitor, and he was fighting.

"While he was fighting, other guys were making plays."

Hazelton caught just six passes this season and just one after the Trojans' season opener.

An ankle injury opened the door for Damian Williams and Ronald Johnson to take more reps at wide receiver, and the two sophomores never looked back.

As Johnson, Williams and Patrick Turner continued to impress, Hazelton fought injuries and never re-earned substantial playing time.

"He's just not as good as the other three guys," offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. "He just wasn't playing as well."

Carroll admitted the hyper-competitive USC program can create situations like Hazelton and Green's.

"This is a very difficult program. It's not for everybody," Carroll said. "These guys have made decisions for their own situations that I support. They feel like they need to go somewhere else."

Still, Hazelton's former quarterback, Mark Sanchez, said he's sad to lose one of his targets.

"It's his decision. Guys are going to have step up and play," Sanchez said, "He felt like he had to do it. I feel bad. It's too bad. He's a good player. He's going to be good wherever he goes."


Carroll got some good news Tuesday regarding his decision to wear cardinal jerseys Saturday against UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

Originally, Carroll though he'd be penalized a timeout in each half of Saturday's game for failing to wear USC's white jerseys.

A re-evaluation of the rule by Rogers Redding, secretary-rules editor of the NCAA football rules committee, said USC would only be penalized one timeout at the start of the game.

News out of UCLA Tuesday said the Bruins would call a timeout at the start of the game to level the playing field.

"It's better than it was," Carroll said. "I hope that maybe some day, you won't have to take a timeout to do this."

Sanchez said the Trojans were probably wearing cardinal either way.

"I'm sure we would have done it anyway, I think," he said. "I know the team was in favor of it."

Extra Points

• Safety Kevin Ellison took part in the early minutes of Tuesday's practice before working with team trainers on the sideline.

"He got some work in early today and worked with the trainers for the bulk of practice," Carroll said. "We'll have to wait and see. It's day-to-day at its best."

• Fullbacks Stanley Havili (ankle) and Adam Goodman (torn meniscus) didn't practice Tuesday, and Goodman said he'll be out until at least USC's bowl game after he has surgery next Monday.

In their absence, freshman D.J. Shoemate took all the reps with the first unit Tuesday.

"He's doing OK," Carroll said. "He's growing up in the position. He's had to transition during the year, which isn't the best. "

The Trojans could also use tight end Rhett Ellison in the backfield.

• Running back Stafon Johnson missed his first practice of the season with a deep thigh contusion on his right leg.

"I'll be back tomorrow. I had to do some work on it today. I had to get a shot to kill the swelling," Johnson said. "I really don't know how it happened. I just know I had a lump after the game.

"This is the first practice I missed. Normally, I'd just go through with it and not worry about it, but I couldn't really bend it today."

Malik Jackson will not be able to play in the first half of Saturday's game at UCLA - a mandatory punishment for being ejected from USC's win over Notre Dame last weekend.

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