After flashing across the USC football sky for barely three weeks as a running back, Tre Madden will be gone. For a full season, it looks like.
In an instant Thursday, with a recognition of where the opening was and where his cut had to be and where the open goal line awaited, the 6-foot, 226-pound sophomore to be with outstanding speed, made his cut. Easily. With exact timing. As he's done consistently since switching over from linebacker after the first week of spring football.
And then he was down. Too bad, was the first thought. Would have been a touchdown. He saw the seam. His foot just slipped.
And then he was on his back. Clearly in pain. And not getting up. He hadn't slipped. His knee had given way. And most everybody who'd seen it, or saw him on his back not getting up, knew.
This was not going to be good. Three USC trainers were out in a heartbeat. That's not the way it usually happens. No need for alarm most of the time. Let's see how this goes is the correct first reaction from coaches, players and trainers. But not this time.
After several minutes of manipulating the knee and checking on the movement and pain, they helped Madden limp off. Then it was ice and a cart and eventually, a manager carrying off his No. 13 jersey, shoulder pads and helmet.
The main attraction for fans in Saturday's Coliseum workout would not need them. Sure, there were those who hoped maybe it was just a sprain, or a dislocated kneecap, maybe some torn cartilage no one knew about.
But that was not to be with the noon announcement from USC Friday:
"USC RB Tre Madden tore a ligament in his left knee during yesterday's practice. The injury will force him to miss the 2012 season after he undergoes surgery.
The injury occurred without contact as Madden attempted to plant and cut off his left leg.
Madden had been the story of spring football after switching over from linebacker to fill a need as a power running back and thriving in his new role. The Mission Viejo product was also reprising his high school role as a Wildcat quarterback.
He played in all 12 games at linebacker and special teams as a true freshman including one start against Colorado.
Sure, he'll have a redshirt season next year. And three full years after that to fulfill his destiny as a Trojan -- as a running back or at linebacker. But he'll be missed. For a team that many have No. 1 in the nation in the earliest preseason predictions for 2012, Madden's move from linebacker to power-running tailback and Wildcat pass-run combo athlete, had been a highlight.
"I'm liking that," Madden said of the additional Wildcat duties he started to work on last Saturday. "They even let me throw it. We'll be practicing it this week . . . I'm definitely open to that . . . I like having the ball in my hands . . . I feel good about it . . . I feel like it [the switch from linebacker] is a good call."
That attitude and the ability he flashed, not to mention the ever-present smile, proved a giant pick-me-up for everyone who observed his improbable mastery of his new-old position. Coupled with his size, his grace, his balance and the speed (his 4.5 electronic time in the 40 made him "one of the fastest players on our team," Lane Kiffin said), Madden really had been the spring story for a team not in absolute need for one.
After all, there were two starting tailbacks from 2011, Curtis McNeal and D.J. Morgan, returning. And the senior McNeal was a 1,000-yard rusher. But there was something about the Tre Madden story, the way he was handling things, that struck a chord.
"Please get us some videotape," fans pleaded. "We want to see him run . . . Who does he look like?"
It wasn't an easy call. Kiffin liked to point out his lower body strength and balance that almost made it impossible to wrestle him down to the ground. Many of his runs ended up in those scrums with three or four defenders holding him in place but not able to wrestle him down -- stalemated.
"He continues to flash every day in practice," Kiffin said. "He's got great body lean and he rarely ever is on the ground. Think of it. He stays on his feet."
And now he's down, but not by a defender. His left knee took the Trojan they were starting to call "the Natural" down. And now the young man who was making such a quick adjustment to a new position will have a long road back.
But maybe one that can work in his favor. He'll have 11 months to get ready for next spring. And the ability he's shown in these three short weeks is something that could stand the test of time.
And now he has the time, and three more years after that, to get back and get going. He'll be missed. But based on what he's shown us thus far, he'll be back.
And there will be plenty of time to watch him run.
Dan Weber covers the Trojans program for USCFootball.com. You can reach him at email@example.com.