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March 5, 2013
Coming from a family of athletes, from his grandfather to sister, from Hawaii to Utah, Su'a Cravens had some idea of what to expect from his first practice with the Trojans.
"My dad told me that the speed was going to be a lot faster than high school," the early admit freshman said on Howard Jones Field just after practice. "I didn't think it was going to be that fast, but these guys look like race cars out here.
"It's gonna take some getting used to, but for the first day, I think I did pretty well."
Nearly two months after enrolling at USC, the five-star safety and California's top recruit suited up in the cardinal and gold about 80 miles northeast from Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, Calif., with as an easy as an acclimation period one could ask for.
"It was a smooth transition. Everybody helped me," Cravens added. "From the staff to the players, they helped me have a smooth transition for the classes, the weightlifting, the practices. I'm grateful that I got to come to a place where they actually take care of you once you get here."
Part of what eased the business management major's move to college was the presence of his fellow freshmen defensive backs: Leon McQuay III and Chris Hawkins, the latter of whom is Cravens' roommate.
"It's fun and it's helpful to share how we're doing and how we're feeling, because there's nothing worse than being at a D-1 college where you feel like you're alone and can't talk to anybody," Cravens said. "Being friends with Chris and being friends with McQuay has been a real big help."
The new USC secondary lacks two team captains - T.J. McDonald and Nickell Robey - and three starters (Jawanza Starling rounds out the group). Odds are, whether it's McQuay, Hawkins or Cravens, some freshman will have to step up with team veterans to fill out new defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Clancy Pendergast's unit.
"Even though we'll have four new starters at those spots, there is some good experience with guys like Demetrius Wright, guys like Torin Harris, guys like Anthony Brown who was starting at one time before he got hurt," head coach Lane Kiffin said. "They're really excited about the new system, they're excited about Clancy."
"It's a brand new group," Pendergast said of his DBs. "It wouldn't have mattered who was coming back, we're gonna play the best guys, and so, whether it's a freshman or sophomore or fifth-year senior, we're gonna play the best guys. It's an open evaluation."
But that isn't news to Cravens as McDonald already hit that point home to the freshman.
"I was friends with T.J. [before coming to USC], and he told me, 'Once you get here, work. Don't come in running your mouth and saying what you're gonna do, just go out there and do it,'" Cravens said. "I've taken that advice. Josh Shaw has taken me under his wing and helping me out with the players. I'm very grateful for those guys."
He's been putting in work before spring ball kicked off, hitting the weight room - a lot. Cravens weighs in at 220, up 15 pounds from his high school playing weight. If he had it his way, he'd love to take a crack at running back, a position he toyed with in high school, in addition to linebacker. But it doesn't matter to him where he plays.
"People think I'm gonna play linebacker and things," Cravens said. "But wherever I get on the field first is where I'm gonna play."
As long as he keeps up the optimistic attitude and hard work, his shot will come sooner rather than later.
Will Robinson is a USC Communication major and senior sports editor for Neon Tommy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Will_Robinson_.