LOS ANGELES — Safety Chris Hawkins was restless.
“I felt like a freshman again,” Hawkins, a fifth-year senior, said Saturday after USC’s first training camp practice. “Last night I really couldn’t sleep. I was tossing and turning in bed, couldn’t wait to get to practice.”
Training camp is underway a bit earlier for the Trojans this season. Last year, they began on Aug. 4. This date on the calendar could mark the earliest point in program history.
Most players didn’t sound displeased with the arrangement.
“I was ready to get to camp anyway,” Hawkins said. “We haven’t played football since January. So I was ready to get back to camp and really get things going.”
The adjusted schedule stems from new NCAA rules that eliminated two-a-days, beginning with this season. Under the new legislation passed in April by the organization’s Division I council, teams remain permitted to have 29 practices before their first game. They are, though, barred from holding multiple contact practices on the same day. In order to use most of the allotted practices, the preseason workload has been pushed further back into the summer.
“It’s different, but awesome,” quarterback Sam Darnold said. “The quicker we can get the ball the better. I was eager to get back.”
“We all miss football,” said linebacker Uchenna Nwosu.
Most players have expressed an eagerness to return to Howard Jones-Brian Kennedy Field.
Since topping Penn State in the Rose Bowl six months ago, the Trojans have emerged as a popular preseason pick to win the Pac-12 Conference and reach the College Football Playoff.
“When you got everybody talking about you, everybody wants to ask you questions about how good you think we can be and all that, all you want to is get out there and prove ‘em right,” Hawkins said.
Amid their enthusiasm to start the season, there are still five weeks to pass until they will play a game: a Sept. 2 season opener against Western Michigan.
Asked how the Trojans might acclimate to a longer preseason, Coach Clay Helton said he hopes to see upperclassmen mentor underclassmen.
It will, he said, limit their repetitions in an effort to keep them healthy, while keeping them involved.
“They have to be mentally engaged,” Helton said, “and almost become coaches on the field, training young guys.”
USC’s camp schedule is gradual.
While it practiced Saturday, it will be off Sunday, before resuming Monday. It is succeeded by an additional day…