Victor Blackwell came into school at USC last summer expecting to play right away, expecting to compete against George Farmer and others for a starting spot across from Robert Woods.
But, he says now, the coaches had other plans for him. And, he also admits, he wasn't quite ready for it either.
And, now that he has a half-year in the program under his belt, having redshirted the 2011 season, Blackwell says he's finally ready to do what he planned to some six months ago: seriously compete for playing time.
Judging from the winter throwing sessions that began last month, he's in perfect position to do that. The 19-year-old Blackwell might just end up being the favorite for the No. 3 receiving spot behind Woods and Marqise Lee by the time fall camp comes around this August, if not sooner.
With Woods out and Lee arriving late to most sessions because of track practice, Blackwell has been the most consistently impressive receiver on the field, catching balls from his high-school teammate, quarterback Matt Barkley, and other signal-callers.
Farmer, now back at receiver after a brief test at running back, will provide competition. And De'Von Flournoy is a veteran presence. But Blackwell has the hands, body control and overall skill level to win the spot.
"I think they're confident in me," he said Tuesday, after the fifth throwing session of the winter, cut a bit short by rain in Los Angeles. "I think it's more of a willpower thing now, more of a will-I-do-it thing now.
"It's all on my shoulders."
Blackwell had too much on his shoulders as a first-year freshman in 2011, he said. Even as a redshirt, he found his course load at times overwhelming, and he had never found the time to commit the playbook to memory. He routinely shined in practices all fall when executing the plays he did know and understand, but he also struggled on occasion, running the wrong routes and frustrating his coaches.
"It was a different transition between high school and college," Blackwell said about that part of the process. "A lot of growing up I had to do that I just don't think I was ready for, so I struggled. But it's not anything I can't handle anymore."
The challenge now, he says, is all off the field.
"Going to class, getting my grades together, school stuff," Blackwell said. "On the field, my talent speaks for itself."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Blackwell also felt the need to bulk up some over the year. His measurables are similar to Lee's and Woods', but both of those players are stronger and more capable of catching balls down the middle of the field. Always known as a speed guy, Blackwell hasn't been afraid to try to out-muscle big defenders like Josh Shaw and T.J. McDonald in the throwing sessions.
The weight and strength looks like less of an issue, too.
"Victor's work habits are ridiculous," Lee said last week when asked about his improvement since the start of last season. "The only thing that held him back last year as that he struggled with his plays.
"Once he gets his plays down, Victor's going to be a difficult, difficult person to guard."