LOS ANGELES -- Five years ago last Saturday, Tony Burnett's best friend died after being shot in the back of the head the previous night in Bellflower.
Burnett, a USC linebacker, found himself thinking about his fallen friend before, during and after the Trojans' loss to Arizona on Saturday. Randy Walls, 18, was shot Oct. 26, 2007, and died the next day.
The anniversary has always meant something to Burnett, but this was the first time he had the opportunity to play on the date of Walls' death.
"I wanted to go out there and get that done for him," Burnett said. "We didn't come out with the win, so it was kinda upsetting to me on a personal level. But he knows that I did my best, and I'm sure he's proud of everything I'm doing right now."
The shooting happened two miles away from Mayfair High, where Burnett went to school. Walls was a year older than Burnett and had graduated high school, but the two grew up together, playing Pop Warner for the same teams since age 7.
"It's heavy in my heart," Burnett said of the anniversary of Walls' death.
He said he chose not to tell any of his teammates about it in the week leading up to the Arizona game.
"I don't want to put that burden on people," Burnett said. "The burden's already on myself."
Burnett said he didn't feel over-aggressive or unable to focus because of his wandering thoughts. He just felt more motivated.
"If anything, it affected me positively, because it made me want to go out there and give everything I could to try to come out with that victory," he said.
On the field, Burnett has become a steady strongside linebacker for the Trojans, albeit in a reserve role. He has consistently subbed in for Dion Bailey and made plays, and he said Wednesday he's pleased with the new role he has adopted.
He started last season as USC's No. 2 corner but moved into a much-reduced role as the season went on. This year, his playing time has increased since the season opener.
"I'm not perfect, but as much as I can I'm doing my job," Burnett said. "I feel like I'm being effective, and I feel like the coaches trust me. Because they're playing me and I'm in the normal regular rotation."