Xavier Grimble has a plan.
After a redshirt freshman season that saw him reel in 15 passes for 144 yards and four touchdowns, Grimble knows where his focus must be as he enters offseason training.
"Detail," he said. "Just with everything I do. Running, blocking, route running, and pass catching. Everything I do has to be detailed."
It's impossible not to notice the 6-foot-5 physical specimen towering over defenders while catching pass after pass during USC's winter throwing sessions. But he'd like his commitment to improvement to stand out even more.
Grimble is excited about the intensive early morning winter conditioning workouts the Trojans are going through in the offseason again. Team chemistry comes from "the grind" of working out together every day, he says. His mission this offseason is simple, yet critical, for the Trojans to live up to lofty preseason expectations.
"I just want to be a lot better than I was last year," he said. "That's my goal."
MORE THAN A POSITION
Grimble isn't going this alone at tight end. He's in his second year of competing against Randall Telfer in a a rivalry where competition has had the opposite effect of turning them into rivals.
"It's all friendship and good competition and we actually help each other out," Grimble said. "We look at it as a tight end group not just a tight end position with one guy starting over the other. It's more of a group thing and we want to be the best tight end tandem in the country so that's what we're working toward right now."
Entering last fall, senior Rhett Ellison was expected to lead a tight-knit group, giving the redshirt freshman tandem time to watch and learn. Ellison, the lone upperclassman at tight end, proved to be an invaluable mentor to the young pair.
"It was great," Grimble said. "Rhett's been here since I was recruited here. He's been here a long time and he's been a great leader to me, Randall and all the other tight ends. He took us under his wing. We watch film with him, we run with him, we lift with him, we do everything pretty much.
"So he's pretty much set the standard for years to come here. He let us know how things go, how things are done, and what we're supposed to be doing, and he's been a great leader so our relationship is really good."
A window of opportunity emerged for Grimble and Telfer when Ellison moved to fullback last fall and both stepped up in a big way. Grimble was sixth on the team in receptions, but used his big frame to create an outstanding red zone target for Matt Barkley as he posted the highest ratio of touchdowns-to-receptions on the team.
As the New England Patriots demonstrated this season, two-tight-end formations can cause serious matchup problems for defenses. That same potential could be there for Grimble and Telfer and hasn't gone unnoticed by the Trojans offensive staff. Grimble described the versatility that can be so attractive with that set for the coaches: the ability to "block like a lineman and catch like the receiver."
"If we go out there and do our job and prove to [Kiffin] that we can make a lot more plays, then of course we're going to get more options and do a couple new things to add to the offense," Grimble said. "We're all looking forward to it. We just need to work hard believe in the coaching."
With National Signing Day Wednesday, Grimble took the opportunity to reflect on his own recruitment.
"My favorite part, which I regret [not taking full advantage of], was the recruiting trips," he said. "The trips were always fun. I didn't actually take all my visits. I only took two or three officials because I was so sold on coming to USC. I didn't want to go anywhere else at the time.
"I don't think that would've changed my decision because I love this place and I've been loving it since I came here but just seeing those guys come in from different places and have a good time with us kind of makes me look back to when I was in that position and wish I took the chance to go see everything."
Grimble was quick to point out that despite the excitement of official visits, the final step of the process can be difficult on recruits who must make their college choice while being pulled in multiple directions by family and friends.
"It's the biggest decision 18-year-old guys have to make and it's not easy and I think it's the most stressful part," he said. "You're trying to take in what everyone else is going to say and take in how you feel and what's best for a school, what's best for your position and where you're going to be for the next four years of your life. I was very fortunate to even have that decision but at the same time it's still stressful."
After hosting five-star offensive tackle Zach Banner on his recent official visit, Grimble seemed confident about the Trojans incoming class.
"I hosted Zach last weekend but I look at it as if I was hosting everybody pretty much," Grimble said. "We let them know how things are and how things are going to be. We want guys that want to come in and win. We want guys that are winners. It was a pretty fun last weekend. We had a lot of guys."
Brett Rasmussen is a Business Administration major at USC who has worked for the USC football program, LA Sports & Entertainment Commission and AEG. You can follow him on Twitter @brettdrasmussen.