LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday at the Coliseum, a group of USC players will take part in the annual senior tunnel prior to the Trojans' game with UCLA. You can be sure they are going to hear some thunderous applause from the Trojans fans in attendance.
These seniors have earned a special place in hearts of the Trojan Family. They arrived at USC at a time when the Trojans ruled the college football landscape, holding visions of Rose Bowls and BCS titles in their heads. Instead, they were dealt a different hand -- one that involved NCAA sanctions, bowl bans and the transfers of several classmates.
They've dealt with a coaching transition that brought with it a change of culture that could not have been more dramatic. The coaching styles of Pete Carroll and Lane Kiffin are night and day, causing an adjustment period for some of the players.
The players who will run down that tunnel on Saturday are the ones who persevered. They all had a chance to leave, as the NCAA granted anyone in this class the opportunity to transfer without penalty as part of the sanctions. Some took that option and left. These guys didn't.
The seniors stayed despite knowing there would be no more bowl trips for the rest of their USC careers. They stayed and paid the price for the sins of others. They listened to the new coaching staff and eventually bought in to their program. It was a struggle at first, but the hard work began to pay off and it all started to click.
What the senior class has done this season has been a joy for everyone involved with the USC program. It has restored the pride and laid a strong foundation for a future that is sure to bring some obstacles. But because of what this group has done, those obstacles don't seem as daunting anymore.
These players led the way out of a trying period. On Saturday, the Coliseum crowd is going to let them know just how much it appreciates that.
Both Armond Armstead and T.J. Bryant are members of this senior class, but both are redshirting this year so, as far as we know, they will not be taking part in the senior tunnel run.
Brandon Carswell: Carswell came close to leaving prior to the 2010 season, but Kiffin talked him into returning, primarily by reminding him of how close he was to getting his USC degree. Carswell has played a solid reserve role this season in the receiver rotation.
Martin Coleman: Things didn't work out this year for Coleman when he got his starting shot, but it was good to see him at least get that shot. Injuries robbed him of the majority of his USC career, but he got healthy enough at the end of it to earn a starting spot for at least one game.
Ross Cumming: A terrific example of what this season's team is all about. Cumming broke his back in prep school and had to abandon his dream of attending the Naval Academy. He walked on at USC, earned a scholarship last year based on his special teams work, but wasn't seeing any time as a reserve linebacker. The coaches moved him to fullback this season and the run game took off once he settled in to his new role. This is one tough football player.
Rhett Ellison: He went from being a late scholarship offer to one of the real leaders of the team. His teammates showed how much they think of him when they voted him captain at the beginning of the year. It takes a special player to be on the cusp of an NFL career at one position and then to switch positions because the team needed it. Ellison definitely represented his father Riki's USC legacy well.
Chris Galippo: One of the Anaheim Servite trio (along with Matt Kalil and D.J. Shoemate) who played youth football together and dreamed of playing for the Trojans. Galippo came to USC as the top-rated linebacker in the country with expectations of being the next Trojans great at that position. Things didn't go as planned, as he had a couple of back surgeries, but he stayed the course and was a team leader this season even when he lost his starting job to Lamar Dawson.
DaJohn Harris: His early years at USC were spent fighting the lazy and unmotivated label. He worked his way through that and became a dependable two-year starter in the middle of the defensive line. It was a nice career for the one they call "Juicy", particularly his memorable interception against California in 2010.
Shane Horton: Horton transferred to USC from UNLV as a safety and was reunited with his younger brother Wes. The game this weekend will also be a family affair, as their father once played for the Bruins. Horton will be remembered for the way he took over for an injured Malcolm Smith against Stanford in 2010 and led the team in tackles.
Marshall Jones: Shuttled back and forth between corner and safety early in his career before finally settling at safety. He was primarily a reserve in his career, although he did start against UCLA in 2010 and came away with 10 tackles. His brother Malcolm will be on the opposite sideline on Saturday as a running back for the Bruins.
Chris Pousson: The most notable thing about Pousson is the fact that most USC fans probably don't know a whole lot about him. Such is the life of a long snapper -- even one who was a four-year starter for the Trojans. Pousson was very efficient at his job and thus went unnoticed.
Christian Tupou: One of the truly great student-athlete success stories on this team. Tupou graduated in three years despite not redshirting and playing right away after arriving on campus. He ended up injuring his knee prior to his senior year, but came back for the 2011 season and was elected captain by his teammates. He was also the one usually found in the middle of the Trojans huddle leading the pre-game chants. Tupou started a lot of football games for USC and will not only walk away with those memories, but with a master's degree as well.
Marc Tyler: This season was a tough lesson for Tyler. He had waited patiently for his turn to be "the man" at tailback for USC and then slipped when the opportunity was right in front of him. By the time he steadied himself, a couple of injuries derailed him, and eventually his starring role was taken by Curtis McNeal. The lasting memory of Tyler came against Arizona in 2010, when he carried the ball 31 times for 160 yards. Tyler will look to finish his career on a high note against his father Wendell's alma mater.
It will be a packed house on Saturday for the rivalry game and it should be a special moment when these seniors come down the tunnel to hear the roar of the crowd one more time. They certainly deserve it.
Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at email@example.com.