When former Venice High football star Curtis McNeal chose USC it seemed like his best chance of playing would be to return kicks.The 5-foot-8, 180-pound running back had plenty of ability but was buried on the Trojans’ depth chart. With a half dozen high profile players ahead of him McNeal didn’t play in his first season.But now, as a redshirt freshman, he was so impressive in USC’s spring practice which ended April 25 that he figures in Coach Pete Carroll’s plans.McNeal was listed as fifth string when the media was handed a depth chart at a practice-ending interview session but drew considerable praise.”He may have been our MVP of spring practice,” said Carroll. “He’s going to play for sure.”That would mean McNeal would take playing time away from C.J. Gable, Stafon Johnson, Joe McKnight or Allen Bradford. Those established tailbacks were injured during spring workouts. McNeal thrived with added responsibility, gaining 101 yards in one scrimmage. The only glitch was in the final spring game witnessed by 22,000 fans in the Coliseum when he had just seven yards in eight carries. McNeal might now be coveted more than Marc Tyler, another young player who was trying to emerge but has had injury problems.”Curtis is also a good blocker,” said Carroll. “He’s a terrific football player. Our coaches really believe in this kid.”Venice didn’t lose to Santa Monica in the years when McNeal was there. In one game McNeal gained 235 yards and scored four touchdowns on a rainy night.”He’s one of the best we’ve played against,” said Zach Cuda, Samohi’s head coach the last three seasons.McNeal has benefited from Carroll’s philosophy of giving everyone a chance even if older players appear to be ahead of them. At some schools newcomers have to wait until others graduate before they’re considered seriously.”We believe in competition at every position regardless of what year the players are in school,” said Carroll. “That’s the way it’s been since I arrived here. The older players understand because that’s the way it was when they came in.”USC has reached the NCAA limit of spring practice days. Practice will resume around August 8 for the opening game Sept. 5 against San Jose State at the Coliseum. The following week USC will play at Ohio State.
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