Going from high school football star to wet-behind-the-ears newcomer at a place like USC, all in the blink of an eye, isn’t exactly an easy transition for any early-entry freshman to make. But Jalen Greene was more prepared than most when he arrived on campus in January.
That’s because Greene is certainly no stranger when it comes to dealing with pressure and, just as important, competition. The dual-threat standout was only a sophomore in 2011 when he took over the starting quarterback job at Gardena (Calif.) Serra -- a Southern California powerhouse that under head coach Scott Altenberg has developed a reputation as somewhat of a college football factory as of late, churning out big names such as Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, among others.
Guiding the Cavaliers to a 35-6 record and a 2012 CIF state title during his time there, Greene got better and better throughout his career, due in part to the fact that with so much talent around him, he knew he could never afford to ease up.
“Coach Altenberg preached to us every day about competition,” said Greene, who passed for more than 6,300 yards and rushed for more than 3,000 in his three years at the helm of the Cavaliers offense. “Every time we broke we said, ‘Competition,’ so competition was always in our mind -- in games, in practice, every day. That’s all we knew.”
That battle cry and that experience, has served Greene well so far at USC.
Electing to sign with the Trojans late in the recruiting process after having previously given Chris Petersen-led staffs at Boise State and Washington his verbal commitment, the 6-foot-3 lefty looked completely at home out on Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field during the Trojans’ recently completed spring practice schedule. This despite having been thrown into a fresh system with new coaches, not to mention a high-profile quarterback battle. And while he was never able to jump ahead of Max Browne or Cody Kessler -- the eventual winner -- in that derby, Greene certainly succeeded in making a positive impression on those around him, both for the strong arm he showcased and for the way he progressed.
“I’m really, really pleased with him,” USC offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton said. “I am very excited by how fast he’s picked up the concepts, how hard he is working. ... You know, you can see the liveness of his arm. He has very, very good tools and will be a very promising quarterback here for the future.”
Of course, Greene did have his anxious moments early on.
“When I first started I was a little bit nervous, but Coach Helton, coach Tee [Martin] and coach [Steve Sarkisian] guided me a lot,” Greene said. “With the guidance from them, it became easier. It’s a lot faster than the high school level. I feel that I’m getting there, I’m catching up to the speed, but I just have to keep progressing.”
Helton has had the biggest impact on Greene so far. The two worked tirelessly throughout the spring to perfect his throwing motion and footwork, and the results were noticeable.
“He’s been a tremendous help,” Greene said. “I’m more accurate than I was when I first started -- there are less balls being thrown all over the place. He’s been helping me out a lot. Every throw he’s right behind me telling me what I need to fix.”
Physically, Greene has made strides as well. Jumping right into USC strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis’ workouts when he first arrived, Greene has already bulked up substantially over the course of the last four months.
“Right now I weigh 212, so that’s been surprising. I came in weighing 196,” Greene said. “I gained a lot of weight. And Coach Ivan, he’s a great coach. He’s been guiding me each day we’re in the weight room.”
And just like when he was at Serra, that old mantra of "Competition" still sits in the back of his head and drives him, including right now in the offseason, as he strives to one day realize his ultimate goal of lining up as the Trojans’ starting quarterback.
“That’s the plan,” Greene said. “I just want to keep competing, keep learning as much as I can and just stay focused.”