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May 17, 2013It was a day that started off like so many good days at USC -- with a big breakfast at an especially bustling Jack's and Joe on Figueroa. Parents, grads, alums, visitors coming and going.
And there in a corner with his USC brood of football guys, the godfather Steve Martinez was holding court. But one of them, the normally talkative Frankie Telfort, was seriously preoccupied. We can't even be sure he was eating. Only later did we learn why.
"He didn't say anything about it," Martinez would say after Frankie's star turn as the sendoff Senior Speaker with a special USC story to tell at the Student-Athlete Graduation Celebration Thursday. He was saving it up, obviously.
"I hope this gives you something to take with you," Frankie said to his fellow Trojan athlete grads. And then he told the story of a 17-year-old far from his Miami home ready for big things, he said, arriving with fellow Southerner, Jarvis Jones.
"This young man had built himself up to 215 pounds, ran a 4.44 forty . . . and was really ready to be all that he could be . . . a young man ready to pursue his dreams. That young man was me," Frankie said. "Then two weeks after reporting to USC, sitting in a doctor's office, that young man received devastating news. I was told my football career was over. I was devastated. I had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy."
And he had to answer a question for himself. "Do I give up and go back to Miami?" he asked now that a heart defect would not allow him to be the player he knew he could be.
Then he answered it for himself: "I know I am not a quitter . . . I decided to be a student assistant . . . I have a degree in kinesiology after four years."
And then the applause stopped him.
He continued: "I'm an experienced coach," and still to this day making his way in football. And headed to the NFL. He'll report July 21 for his Seattle Seahawks coaching/scouting internship under the two men who recruited him to USC -- Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. -- who Frankie respects so much. He'll have the option of going in either direction when he finishes.
And then he finished off his talk with advice from his own life for all his contemporaries who have had such success in their own sports careers with a nonfootball metaphorical piece of advice.
"When life throws you a curve ball," Telfort said, "remember me and hit that curve ball out of the park."
TELFORT NOT ALONE
In what is always one of the special sports days each year at USC, there were plenty of highlights from the honorees: We'll note some of them here.
* Community Service: One number that jumped out yesterday wasn't so much the $5,000 award from Fidelity Investments through the National Football Foundation for USC's scholar-athlete approach but the 8,000 hours put in by USC student-athletes tutoring, visiting schools and hospitals and now the $5 million grant from the Otis Boothe Foundation to start an officially funded program at USC named after Matt Barkley for the work he and his family did in Nigeria, Haiti and many other places over his USC career. And from the Trojan Athletic Parents Association, for her work with homeless children on LA's skid row, Alexanda Harrison was named the TAPA Community Service Award winner.
* Legend of Troy winners Gayle and Ed Roski and Ron Allice: No way you can do the Roskis justice here for what the USC alum couple has accomplished. Gayle is a celebrated watercolorist and patron of the arts who has illustrated USC books and designed scarves for USC groups and traveled the world with her husband. Chairman of the USC Board, Ed has a resume too long to even summarize, from part-owner of the Kings, Lakers and Staples Center to running one of the nations largest privately held real estate and development companies, Majestic Realty, to a twice-wounded Vietnam War Marine vet to a former Trojans JV football player, Roski has been there and done that.
But the message from a man who has climbed Mt. Everest, K2 and Kiliminjaro, and cycled across Mongolia, Russia, China and Burma, on this day was about working his way up from the USC freshman team to the JV squad. And how the connections he made there -- John McKay and Al Davis -- "mentors and friends for more than 50 years" as they went from college assistant coaches to NFL head coaches and owners. And how Roski wanted to see these young athletes make "an ubreakable bond for the rest of your life" with their coaches. And likewise, we nodded, for the current USC coaches to do the same as we jotted down: "Hope Lane Kiffin is listening."
* USC's 19-year track coach Allice (with 37 overall as a coach and 50 years in his sport) put down the award winner: "I'm not sure 'legend' is proper. I've been called a lot of things but not a legend." But then Allice said something that makes you realize why he is without even mentioning his national championship or his 17 Top 10 NCAA finishes at a scholarship-limited private program. "Through all the trials and tribulations, what you remember are the people." And then he said to the student-athletes, "You're the legends I've had a chance to watch."
* Trojan Diamondeer Award: When Olympian Bryshon Nellums was named as one of the Trojan Diamondeer winners for bringing the most fame to the University, Allice acknowledged the star who worked his way back from a serious shooting in his leg to the London Olympics as having "the greatest impact for an athlete I've ever had in coaching." Silver medalist swimmer Haley Anderson's 10,000-meters medal in London earned her that honor for the women.
* Other football award winners: David X. Marks Scholar-Athletes: Devon Kennard, Kyle Negrete. USC Student Recognition Awards: Khaled Holmes, Kyle Negrete.
* Football graduates (with majors): Will Andrew (Human Biology); John "Jack" Langan Auran Jr. (Business Administration); Dion Daniel Jerell Bailey (Policy, Planning and Development); Brian Edward Baucham Jr. (Sociology); Darnell Bing (Policy, Planning and Development); Gio Di Poalo (Sociology); Kevin Downey Jr. (Economics & Mathematics); Luke Freeman (Human Biology); Jeremy Galten (International Relations); Bryson Lloyd (Business Administration); John Martinez (Sociology); Eric Matranga (Economics); Curtis McNeal (Sociology); Kyle Negrete (Business Administration); Luis Nevarez (Communications); Marquis Simmons (Sociology); Cody Skene (Business Administration); Frankie Telfort (Kinesiology); William Tober (Broadcast Journalism); Kyle Yatabe (Economics).
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.