Best of 2008

The holidays are a great time to sit back and reflect on the year that's come and gone.
In that spirit, I took the time over the past few days to look back over my first season covering the Trojan football team.
Out of everything I've written, here are a few of my favorite stories.

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Tonga Party
This is my favorite story from the year, probably because it took the most time and energy.
The story came out of an interview with Christian Tupou over the summer. Tupou spoke so sincerely and matter-of-factly about Tongan culture without even being asked about it.
From there, I went to Fili Moala, one of the first players I spoke with after arriving to cover the team.
Extended chats on multiple occasions with Moala were a huge help in understanding Tongan culture, and I think the end product tells a nice story about a culture that had been totally foreign to me.
Sanchez turns in gritty performance
After USC took care of UCLA, I remember being surprised how uninspiring Mark Sanchez's numbers were — 18-of-33 for 269 yards, two scores and an interception.
The numbers weren't bad, but Sanchez had been better. Still, I thought he played just great in a tough situation.
It was hard to put into words how he seemed to react to the news that Steve Sarkisian was leaving to Washington. He looked like someone on the verge of a sleepless night. He was clearly losing more than just a coach.
Still, he gathered his thoughts and led USC to a big win at the Rose Bowl.
Insider: The 'D' and rock, paper, scissors
Pete Carroll is always preaching competition. It was so cool to see his reaction when I brought up the fact that his players would play paper, rock, scissors on the defensive line during practices and games.
It was the manifestation of his "Always Compete" mantra, as his players were finding ways to go at it in between plays.
Plus, as a fan of the game of rock, paper, scissors, it was cool to hear who used what strategies.
And, at least four different players claimed to be the best at it.
Identity Crisis
Rey Maualuga is one of the best kinds of interviews. You really never know what he's going to say.
I remember after USC beat Virginia easily in USC's opener, Maualuga said that he didn't think the USC offense was that good, that he was surprised by the group's output.
Simply amazing and simply honest.
Later in the year, Maualuga told me he hadn't been feeling right about his game. What came out of his mouth after was another surprise.