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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Darrell Rideaux Interview

Building the Cornerstone
by Mojack

By definition, the cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire dynasty. Okay, I took a little literary license to replace “building” with "dynasty," but that is what we’re talking about here, the dynasty of USC football, and the group of players who set the stones in place.

If we look back through USC’s five straight BCS games, the team that started this remarkable road of success was the 2002 squad, year two of Pete Carroll’s reign. That 2002 team went 11-2 and dismantled Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl, and most USC fans and USC football historians look back with a nostalgic eye on that team, realizing that was the genesis of what is now the preeminent football power in college football. Some of the names of that infamous team, the builders of the cornerstone of the current dynasty, were Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Alex Holmes and Darrell Rideaux. Each of those players had started their USC careers with Paul Hackett, and each struggled through the 1999 and 2000 seasons before Pete Carroll was hired to turn the program around. Those players have a unique perspective to share, for they have first hand knowledge of what it was like then, what happened, and what’s it’s like now. And one of those players, Darrell Rideaux, agreed to take us on a little tour through his first few years at USC, and his struggles and triumphs, which ended as an Orange Bowl champion.

I asked Ray Weber, San Diego Trojan Club President, about his memories of Darrell. Ray wrote, "I recall how excited I was in the late ‘90's when Coach Hackett was able to recruit top local players like Carson, Alex Holmes, Darrell, Bernard Reilly, and Troy P., into the USC family. (photo right: Darrell & Dipwad) Two of my very favorite games that Darrell played in were the (at) UCLA game, 55-21, and then the first 31 point ND win at the Coliseum, where these seniors played their final home games and # 22 Darrell and his LB Poly buddy, safety #5 De Shaun Hill, both had HUGE picks and our defense just swarmed ND. I was hoping that Darrell could get into the end zone on his interception return (I think that a big guy nudged him out of bounds along the sideline and then Pete arrived with a big bear hug for Darrell). The Coliseum was bedlam, and we had FINALLY beaten our two rivals in the same season for the first time in twenty years. Darrell was quoted, I believe by the LATimes in the ND post game as saying, "Now I understand what Trojan football is all about!'' I loved that quote because that ‘02 team got tired of losing and turned on the light for the past, present and future of what we had all hoped would flourish again...USC Dominance! USC was back!”

Ray continued, “On a few occasions, Darrell has dropped everything and been our featured speaker at the San Diego Trojan Club. It's always great for us all to get to see Darrell as he is just a tremendous asset to the USC family, he's so insightful, ant the sky is the limit for him. We were very lucky that Darrell chose USC, he's certainly a ''Trojan for life." I hope he looks back at his playing career at USC with nothing but pride and satisfaction knowing that he and his teammates started something very, very special…!”

The Herd wants to thank Darrell for his time, and for the opportunity to interview him.

You were a highly successful football and track star at Long Beach Poly; Parade All-American, Dream Team, Best in the West, etc. What was your recruiting like? What coach recruited you? And what was your opinion of Paul Hackett as a recruiter. Though we all have opinions of his on-field coaching abilities, Coach Hackett had some success as a recruiter. Finally, what sold you on USC?

The recruiting process started during the end of my freshmen year at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. I had just completed the football season having started eight out of twelve games. I am the only freshmen ever to play and compete in football at the varsity level at Poly. I can recall receiving mass mailers from universities all throughout the country. I would receive over thirty packages of mail per day. It was the sophomore year when I was first approached by a USC recruiter under John Robinson. I was initially recruited by a coach name Dennis Thurman, he would be retained by Paul Hackett and I committed to USC and he had a lot to do with it. Coach Paul Hackett was a go recruiter, he had a knack for finding good local talent and during my official visit, Coach Hackett considered me to be his number one recruit. He attributed the title to the fact that I had leadership qualities and have gained the respect of my peers. As a two sport athlete I knew that I wanted stay local or go to Notre Dame. But, it was USC that I chose.

You came in as a freshman and had a fairly successful campaign. You backed up Antuan Simmons. You made the Sporting News Freshman All-American second team. What does it do to a young man's ego, an 18 year old, who comes from high school and is immediately immersed in the action of big time Division 1 football and is successful doing it? And at that point, what did you foresee for your college career?

Many people were unaware of this but I probably should have declared my redshirt in the first year because I had entered college with a stress fracture in my lower back. I suffered extreme back spasms that limited my mobility and prevented me from reaching my maximum potential. As a result of being thrust onto the field before I was physically mature, my confidence wavered. Pete Carroll helped restore my confidence through his patience and willingness to help bring the best out of me.

When you were recruited, Coach Hackett had seemingly started to resurrect the program. USC had gone 8-4, and even though they endured a dreadful beating in the Sun Bowl, the 8-5 record was a leap up from JR's last season of 6-6. So, what was the rollercoaster ride like to endure those first two sub par seasons with Coach Hackett, and then watch it all unravel in 2000 which led to his dismissal? For one, the talent on your teams in 1999 and 2000 was better than the record indicated. Without calling out any of your former coaches, what was your opinion of why the team struggled those two years? And what was it like to have the coach who recruited you fired...?

I think the teams that I played for in 1999 and 2000 lacked chemistry. We would often go into games with uncertainty of how to put teams away. Perhaps it was because we were so young in so many areas and the coaches did not emphasize the importance of teamwork, we were not playing as a cohesive unit. In addition, we had coaches that tried to motivate us by using negative reinforcement. We were constantly verbally beaten up to the point that as a team we may have played not to lose versus playing with the confidence of expecting to win. As a result, I felt like our team was fragmented and methodical in our approach which caused us to become passive when we had leads toward the end of games. As an athlete it was frustrating losing more games in one season at USC then I did in my whole career at Poly. The most frustrating problems were not the physical capabilities it was the mental part of the game which lead to Paul Hackett’s demise. Our players did not respond to his complicated defensive scheme. We ran a version of the 3-4 using Omar Nazel and Kori Dickerson as a linebacker/ defensive end. The scheme was unsuccessful because if an offense made any adjustments such as motioning from a balanced formation into a slot receiver set, the defense coverage assignments would go from cover 3 to cover 2. In other words it required us to over think and over analyze the situation versus the alternative which is relying on our athletic skills to make plays.

Now in comparison, what was it like to be on the team and on the practice field as Coach Carroll came to USC and brought a new attitude? Did you know right away that things were going to be different? Was it just a gut feeling? Was it the way that Pete approaches practices, the players, interacted with other coaches? Did you have an indication that the Program was going to be turned around?

When Pete arrived on campus he changed our perception of who we felt we were. It was subtle. He changed our environment from the weight room, the locker room and our meeting rooms. We were stimulated with positive images of the great legacy of our rich university. Pete Carroll taught us how to visualize success and to capture the moment by how you go about your every day preparation. He made practice so competitive that you did not have time to focus on the team that you were playing against on Saturday. That is the way he likes it. If you are constantly reminded of how good a team is sometimes young players can become overwhelmed with unnecessary anxiety.

We get a little nostalgic when speaking of 2001, not only because it was Pete's first year, but it was also the Herd's rookie season, so we've ridden along with this surge of Trojan success also. What was it like playing for Pete that first year, and what changes did you see taking place as USC came into its own during 2002?

I’ll never forget the echo’s of the Herd chanting “WE ARE SC!” Our cleats would clamor click, clack, as we walked down the unleveled slope of the Coliseum tunnel. (photo left: Darrell as MC at Universal City Rally, pre-2007 Rose Bowl) Playing for Coach Carroll is a pleasure because you always get the impression that he truly expects the best of himself and we are a reflection of his effervescent attitude for live and football.

What was the bowl experiences like for you? You went from not going to bowls your first two years, to going to the Las Vegas Bowl to the Orange Bowl the next year. For one, what happened at the Las Vegas Bowl? We've heard that the team was more interested in the Vegas experience than prepping for Utah? On the other hand, the Orange Bowl was a completely different experience. That 2002 team was the start of the current dynasty. What was it like to be a part of that Trojan turnaround?

I have always felt like it was our group in 2002 that truly turned the program around having reached the 2003 FED/EX Orange Bowl and our first of what would be many BCS appearances. I am overwhelmed with emotion when I think about how much we had to overcome in order for the program to live this dynasty.

You've seen the Trojans go on major streaks against their rivals the last few years, the 2006 UCLA game doesn't need to be included in this conversation. What was it like to be a part of the team to end the horrible 8 year streak? And how special was that 27-0 victory as well as that 55-21 win during your senior year? Finally, what was that loss like at Notre Dame in 2001 before the winning streak started?

I grew up during the time when UCLA was on top of USC and dominated the rivalry in both sports it was great to beat them and to celebrate in a wave of emotions as Chad was carried off the field in triumph. It felt surreal and lasted seven great years. That is something no one will ever take away from me. I was at the university and contributed to threes streaks broken. Two in football (UCLA, Notre Dame) and one in Track and Field and twenty two year streak ended when we beat them in the dual meet.

You were a record holding sprinter when you came to USC? You also had a very distinguished track career at USC; being a member of some very fast sprint relay teams and doing well individually also. What were your feelings about track compared to football? How does a track star prepare mentally, physically differently than a football player? And what would have happened with your track career if you had never played football?

I actually love Track more than Football because it challenges your inner strengths. Track is so mental, and so technical that a race is sometimes lost before you step onto the track. I was privileged to compete at the highest levels in to tremendous sports.

When you left USC, you had some success trying out for the Indianapolis Colts, and played in NFL Europe for the Berlin Thunder. What was that experience like? Playing football in Europe? How did you like Europe? And when did you give up on your NFL dream?

My experience with the Colts was cut short primarily due to the fact that I tore my hamstring 21 centimeters (approx. 8 inches). So the Colts allocated me to NFL Europe in order to gain the playing experience that I lost due to the injury. It was the best thing that could have happened to my career because I saw parts of the world that I never thought that I would experience at this stage of my life. (photo right: Darrell #24) The team I played for, the Berlin Thunder, might have been the best team that I have ever played on (I have played on 11 championship teams in my career).

You are currently very involved with Trojan football. You've done some articles for WeAreSC in regards to recruiting. You've worked for ESPN with Newbury doing pregame and postgame. You were a master of ceremonies for the rally at Universal City walk before the 2006 Rose Bowl. How does that make you feel to still be intimately involved in Trojan football, and to still have many Trojan fans appreciate your efforts as a past football star and as a great member of the Trojan family?

When your body of work is completed as an athlete and you are no longer in the lime light as a player, I wondered just how would I be embraced by the alumni? I have to tell you that this whole experience has been amazing. I love what I do and am grateful for having the platform by which I am able to connect with some many who have supported the program during the low points of the football program.

Following up on the last question, you're very good on the radio analyzing games. Is media something you're interested in pursuing more extensively?

I would love to continue to grow and develop as an on air talent. I have improved with each season and l am excited about building on this foundation. However, I have recent entered the financial arena as an investment advisor for Signature Resources working with clients on estate planning. I have learned so much from my firm and for the first time in my life I am called a professional in an area that does not involve a sport and that means the world to me. I am married with no children and being a tax payer is something I look forward to because it means that I am employed and more importantly providing for my family.

You've seen the Thundering Herd grow from being a 100 fans or so in Section 11, to covering Section 11 and Section 13, and completely choking off the surrounding sections of the Coliseum's tunnel. What's your opinion of the sold-out Coliseum and the seeming frenzy of the fans compared to the relatively hollow (or shallow) level of support that USC fans gave to PH in the last year of his tenure at USC?

It is great to see the Coliseum rocking on Saturday. I am captivated by just how many people can live vicariously through the success of a program that means so much to so many.

Finally, can you sum up your feelings about your time at USC, about being a part of Trojan football history, and of your feelings about the Trojan family?

I love my experience at USC because I entered a boy and graduated a man. I learned so much about the social etiquettes of life through traveling. I have met so many great people and will continue to reach out to as many people that are willing to extend their hand and embrace me. There are so many things that I would like to get accomplished but through patience and time I will accomplish the rest of my goals which is to build a sports center in Long Beach. The Sport Center will offer SAT prep classes, social etiquette courses and vocational training for the community.

Herd, thanks for the memories! Fight on.

Darrell W. Rideaux

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