LOS ANGELES -- After playing the waiting game, Cody Kessler is ready to compete for the role as USC's starting quarterback.
In his two years on campus as a reserve quarterback for the Trojans, Kessler has worked tirelessly behind the scenes -- refining his mechanics, adjusting to the speed of the college game and soaking up everything he could from every chalk talk and film session.
"I've definitely come a long way," Kessler said recently after one of the team's winter workouts.
But there's just one more thing that he's shown an even bigger mastery of, and it just might be the secret to his potential success: patience.
Arriving at USC in the spring of 2011 as the reigning Gatorade California Player of the Year after passing for 2,831 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior at Bakersfield (Calif.) Centennial, he knew exactly what he'd gotten himself into. With an established star already at the helm for the Trojans in Matt Barkley, he would simply have to wait for an opportunity to make an impact -- something he was prepared to do.
And it's that ability to keep everything in perspective that has allowed Kessler to maintain a positive mindset throughout his time at USC, even during those somewhat trying times such as during this past fall, when fellow Trojans quarterback Max Wittek got the call to start the team's final two games of the season after Barkley was injured.
"There's a lot of guys who come in, and they don't have that immediate impact, but you definitely can't lose that fire, that fight, because at any moment you can be going in," said Kessler, who was also a holder on field goals and extra points. "Every game, I've prepared myself like I'm starting this game and I need to go in prepared. It's definitely been hard, and obviously I want to play, but you can't lose focus."
Fast-forward to the present. With Barkley now off to the NFL, Kessler's preparation has placed him in the perfect position to gun for the No. 1 spot.
But with Wittek as well as heralded freshman Max Browne more than capable of nailing down the job, too, it certainly won't be easy.
"I'm just definitely going in to compete," Kessler said. "That's why I came here in the first place -- to compete. And with Matt gone, obviously for Me, Max and Max, the door is wide open for someone to come in and take it."
For Kessler, that mantra of competition is much more than lip service. It's something that he's brought with him into every practice and workout in his time as a Trojan. And with spring ball quickly approaching, that drive and determination to succeed has only intensified over the past few weeks.
"I've been throwing in the offseason this whole time, and just coming out firing," Kessler said. "The coaches have said, 'You guys have to have a big spring.' And obviously everyone knows that. We all know that we're competing against each other. But I'm just doing what I've been doing since I got here, and that's compete, and not making excuses, not complaining ... just come out and work as hard as I can every day."
"We push each other," Kessler said. "And it's not like we go out there hoping, 'Oh, I hope this person does bad. I'm going to do better now.' It's like I watch him and go, 'Oh, he threw that great ball, so now I've got to throw a better ball.' And at the same time we're learning from each other and helping each other. And myself and Wittek have to help out Max [Browne] with the playbook -- that's why we're a team."
It's precisely that kind of selfless competition that Kiffin and Co. are hoping will produce the absolute best candidate to start for the Trojans at quarterback in 2013. And whether or not that ultimately does prove to be Kessler, after waiting in the wings he's just happy to finally have the chance to compete for what he considers to be one of the most prized roles around.
"I'm definitely thankful for this opportunity and it's one of the best positions to be in, in my opinion, in the country -- playing quarterback at USC," Kessler said. "And obviously everyone thinks, 'You want to be the starter, you want to do this,' but at the same time I'm trying not to lose focus on my main goal, and that's just to improve myself, improve the team and to keep working."