There is nothing like success. It affords us the luxury of looking back at a less-than-flourishing past and have nostalgia for that time. A rich man can reflect on the years he was poor and sigh, "ohh, those were the days." And a Trojan fan can now, thanks to Pete Carroll and the recent Trojan teams, turn his head around and remember the USC era of the 1990's. By most definitions of college football success, the 1990's weren't a bad decade for a college football squad. USC won two Rose Bowls (though the 1990 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan was the end of the 1989 season), one Cotton Bowl and one Freedom Bowl. USC also lost one Freedom Bowl to Fresno State and the Sun Bowl to TCU, though again for the sake of this article, let's remember the good in the '90s. In comparison, UCLA hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 1985 and Notre Dame hasn't won a bowl game, any bowl game, since 1994.
Except this is USC, and USC coaches, players and fans can't accept losing Freedom Bowls and Sun Bowls and not going to bowls, and so we look askance at that time, remembering coaching failures and the decline of glory. But in this time of USC's gridiron success we can reminisce about the players who gave their blood and tears for the cardinal and gold during the '90s. They were still great Trojans who ran onto the Coliseum turf in the 1990s, and though we might not have always liked the final scores of the games, we can never diminish their efforts as football players and as students of the University of Southern California.
The USCHerd blog will be profiling past players, asking them about their eras, the coaches they played for, and what it felt felt like being a Trojan football player then and what its like now to continue in the Trojan family.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Adam Abrams, #19, who was the place kicker for USC from 1994-1998, and was voted team captain for the 1998 squad. In Adam's Trojan career, he kicked three field goals of 46 yards including one against Northwestern in the '96 Rose Bowl, one against Oregon State in '97 and one against TCU in '98. He is third on the list of Trojan kicker with field goals over 40 yards with a total of 10, and Adam led the team in scoring in 1996 with 72 points and in 1998 with 86 points.
This is the 1st part of a two-day interview with Adam Abrams.
Since the advent of the internet the recruitniks have blossomed, and fans follow that aspect of college football competition with great intensity. What was your recruiting like? Who recruited you and what sold you on USC?
My recruiting was pretty hectic and intense on a personal level since it was probably the biggest decision of my life at that time. I think the key to my success was the fact that I went to many college’s football summer camps in between my soph/junior year and junior/senior years. Coaches were able to see my kicking ability and leg strength first hand and evaluate me. Fortunately they were impressed which led me to get on all the scouting Top 100 lists prior to my senior year and I was ranked as either the number 1 or number 2 (behind Wade Richey) kicker in the country throughout the recruiting process.
I took all 5 of my recruiting trips which were: Cal, Arizona, USC, Notre Dame, and Colorado. I was also considering Stanford where my brother was a kicker. I got to meet a lot of my soon to be teammates and became close with them during the recruiting process. The biggest factors in my decision were: education, coaching staff, other kickers on the team, location, weather, conference, and social life. I chose USC over Notre Dame a few days before signing day and never looked back. I favored USC in every category that I was considering. One of the biggest factors was that if football didn’t work out professionally I wanted to work in the music industry so LA was the place for me to be. USC had the #1 recruiting class that year and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
Can you give us a brief recap of your five year career? Did you redshirt your freshman year? What was that experience like?
I came in my freshman year expecting to redshirt behind Cole Ford and that is what happened. I got acclimated to campus life and the rigors of the year round training. Coming from a very small school and playing games in front of 100 people it was a pretty big shock playing in front of 80K people. My first year we had a pretty good team and we won the Cotton Bowl which was a great experience. Back then, the Cotton Bowl was considered a very top tier bowl. My redshirt freshman year I was thrown into the fire. I started off strong but was dealing with a quadriceps injury that never healed properly. I tore my quad during two-a-days and tried to tough it out. As the only scholarship kicker on the roster I didn’t have much choice since everyone was relying on me. In hindsight I should have let it heal quicker. The first 4 games of the year I would just kick in the games and not practice all week. I didn’t miss any kicks so I kept it up until it was unbearable. I finally got an MRI which revealed the quad tear. I still have scar tissue in my thigh and lost about 7-10 yards of distance on my kickoffs and field goals which I never regained.
Our team went to the Rose Bowl that year and I was finally healthy that game and had a perfect game. After the game I thought we would go back to the Rose Bowl every year but it never worked out that way. My sophomore year was very difficult. I was kicking real well and made some big kicks but our unit struggled with protection. I had about 5 field goals blocked that year and the kicker always takes the glory and the blame. One ortwo may have been a little low but I had a number of kicks blocked directly off my foot. There are too many things to think about as a kicker to be worried about the protection. Overall it was a very difficult time for me since I often knew I struck the ball well but the kicks would be blocked before they had a chance. I took a lot of criticism that year and it was very hard on my emotionally. My 3rd year starting was my best year as a kicker. I think I only missed 1 kick all season and the highlight was my game winning kick at Notre Dame to end our losing streak there. I also had a few game deciding kicks which were always a thrill. Our record was disappointing, however. My final season was very tough adjusting to a new coach with Coach Hackett and not meeting our team expectations. We lost to TCU in the Sun Bowl which was a disappointing end to my career. Overall I made over 70% of my field goals which included many misses that were blocked and I was about 85% vs. UCLA, Notre Dame & Bowl games.
Who were some of your favorite teammates? Do you still keep in touch?
Unfortunately it’s hard to keep in touch with teammates and I wish there was a better system in place for us. My closest friends were Grant Pearsall, Marc Matock, Ken Bowen, David Bell, Jim Wren, Mike MacGillavry, Darrell Russell, Bob Aubrey, John Allred, Marc Cusano, Jeff Diltz, John Stonehouse, among many others. The team was a very tight knit group but everyone have gone separate ways. A few times a year I run into old teammates and it’s a great feeling. The Trojan Football Alumni Club does a good job getting former players together for the last game of the year.
In the tribute to Mario Danelo, a few players mentioned that he was "one of the guys" and not considered "just a kicker." There is that stereotype of the kickers being outcasts on football teams. Not saying that you were an outcast, just getting your opinion of how you were treated, and your opinion of that stereotype.
A kicker is treated as an outcast if they don’t make an effort to be a part of the team. I always went above and beyond to try to fit in with the team. I sat in on many film sessions, did all the strength and conditioning training and spent time socially with my teammates.
Obviously my physical limitations (size & strength) prohibited me from getting involved in other ways on the field but I did my best to be seen by everyone and be an important part of the team. I was voted a captain my senior season by my teammates which to me was a sign of respect. The team usually treated me better after a good game, however.
You played for two different coaches, the revered John Robinson, and the not-so-revered Paul Hackett. Can you explain what you liked and disliked about each coaching style? And what was it like playing for a legend like John Robinson as his teams and his tenure didn't live up to expectations?
Coach Robinson recruited me and he was a major factor in my decision to go to USC. Everyone had so much respect for Coach Robinson and he was a proven winner on every level. He was a “players coach” and his pre-game speeches/stories were legendary. He loved going into hostile environments. On road games, he would always tell us to look up into the stands with 3 minutes left in the game and to watch the opposing team’s fans exit the stadium and listen to the silence. He ran the program like we were adults and treated us like professionals. His door was always open to the players and he put a lot of value into seniority. Everyone loved JR which was exemplified by his great recruiting classes. I think at times some of our players were too concerned about getting to the next level and having good stats rather than winning as a team. That’s what led to some of our mediocre seasons. I was very disappointed the way things ended for him.
I didn’t get to know Coach Hackett too well. He kept his distance and ran a very military like program. I didn’t agree with a lot of his motivational methods and had a long senior season getting adjusted to the rigors of his program.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to make it to too many practices lately. While I was on campus for grad school I would peak in every once and awhile but I was always rushing from my job to make it to class. Coach Robinson’s practices were very structured and very intense. He wanted high quality work in a short amount of time. For me, I would get most of my kicking work done before the rest of the team took the field. The snappers, holders and kickers would be the first ones out on the field and I would kick for about 45 minutes before practice. During practice I would mostly watch until the special teams period, then we would have very high pressure situational kicking. We would kick about 5-10 field goals with everyone gathered around rushing, yelling and screaming. There were a lot of fans who would come to practice every day who I got to know pretty well.
Coach Hackett’s practices seemed more about instilling discipline and intense competition. The players seemed like they were beating each other up physically a lot more. I was in a lot of tackling drills with Coach Hackett which was very counter productive for me. JR brought back a lot of the fans and supporters and people connected with him. Everyone was desperate for him to bring back the glory days. With Coach Hackett, people didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t have a known identity with the alumni yet.
In part two of the interview with Adam tomorrow, Adam will explain what its like to kick in a pressure situation, specifically the '96 Rose Bowl, tell us about the heartbreak of never beating UCLA, relate his amazing experiences playing Notre Dame, tell us how he's involved with Trojan football now, and give us his opinion of Trojan football today.