Football: Woods sits out, plays waterboy

USC's Robert Woods has taken on many different roles throughout his athletic career: receiver, high school scrambling quarterback, defensive back and sprinter, among others.

Tuesday was his first foray into the world of a waterboy.

Out of commission for actual football workouts because of a sprained ankle suffered playing pickup basketball (that too!) on the eve of USC's annual Spring Game back in April, Woods was instead commissioned to provide water to his teammates during a Tuesday afternoon 90-minute throwing session. So he stood on the sidelines, a case full of water bottles in hand, and watched the practice. When his teammates needed him -- or his water, more specifically -- they called for him.

And he walked over, received in a laughing manner whatever ribbing they had for him, and went back to the sidelines. During spring ball and fall practices, USC has actual student assistants from its athletic medicine program who man Howard Jones Field's perimeter and provide liquid sustenance.

But not during the summer. So Woods, nursing that sore ankle for the last two months and off the field for the time being, took over for them.

"I've just been training, but my ankle's still hurting and I'm limping around a little bit, so I've just been trying to get it right," Woods said Tuesday when asked for an update on his status. "Since it's been taking so long, I'm really trying to take it serious, heal it up and stay off of it and help the team however I can in the process."

The ankle injury forced him to miss the Spring Game and also earned him a wisecrack from Trojans coach Lane Kiffin in the media, and it's been nagging him on and off over the last two months. He participated in a couple similar throwing sessions earlier this month but clearly wasn't at 100 percent.

Woods is a sophomore, in the conversation for unofficial most dynamic Pac-12 player honors and potentially an All-American candidate at both wide receiver and kick returner, but he's still not sure when exactly he'll be back on the field, as USC's training staff has recommended he stay away for a while.

Is it difficult for him to, well, keep to himself? Yes, he said, it is.

"It's pretty hard," Woods said, not smiling. "You see things that aren't fluid or aren't going right out there and you just want to go and get reps. I feel like I'm losing time trying to get better.

"Sitting out doesn't seem right. You want to be out there with the team and get your work in."

He did get one unofficial snap Tuesday, taking the ball as quarterback after the workout ended and attempting an ill-advised pass that fell well short of its intended target. Aside from that, he stayed true to his duties as water-provider and helper for other young receivers.

His other offseason duties are completed inside Heritage Hall, where Woods has been working -- extensively, he says -- with Aaron Ausmus and the Trojans' strength and conditioning team to add weight to his 180-pound frame. It's a job he can complete even with the current state of his ankle.

Said Woods: "The strength coach has been saying that they've seen a change in me in there, so I've been trying to take that seriously and bringing that strength onto the field."