LOS ANGELES -- After bursting onto the scene as a true freshman during fall camp in 2009, stealing the show as a big-play receiver, De'Von Flournoy's USC career hasn't matched that early trajectory.
But in discussing Flournoy, USC head coach Lane Kiffin uses a line he has used with many veterans: "If you stay, you play."
The last Trojans receiver to hear the phrase was Brandon Carswell, who had one foot out the door on the way to Cincinnati two years ago before reversing his decision and remaining at USC. During his final two seasons, Carswell caught 40 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns, earning a spot in the Trojans receiver rotation. Kiffin has compared Flournoy to Carswell in the redshirt junior's ability to stick it out and earn his way onto the field. But if Flournoy does indeed become the next Brandon Carswell story, a huge assist will go to Carswell himself.
Flournoy said he received a phone call from Carswell after the season.
"He said, 'I don't want you to wait until your last year to try and make an impact,' " Flournoy said of his former teammate. " 'Try to be that guy. Try to fight for positions with those guys. Don't just fall to the back of the pack.' And I really took that to heart."
"Any time there's an opportunity, you like to see players seize their opportunity," said Kiffin after Tuesday's practice. "For the second practice in a row, De'Von Flournoy did a number of things, which is obviously great to see."
Flournoy said his development has been about growing up on and off the field. He understands now that Kiffin is looking for receivers who can be physical and establish themselves through strength and toughness. But it also has been about immersing himself fully into the playbook, something he admitted to not doing early in his career.
"I understand the concepts, and I understand what the routes are on the other side of the field, so it makes it a lot easier," Flournoy said. "And I can read defenses now, so I feel a lot better out there."
Players mature at different rates at the college level, and it is far more common to see a veteran gradually improve over time than a true freshman step in and dominate from day one. Flournoy said he now understands the work that must go into seeing the field on a consistent basis. As the veteran scholarship receiver on the team, he's going above and beyond to make sure he prepares himself to make an impact this season.
"I'm in the playbook every day," Flournoy said. "I know the night before practice that I have to look at all the positions and not just one."
Things are coming easier to him this spring in a physical sense, as well.
"(Strength) coach (Aaron Ausmus) told us that you don't want to be the guy out here unconditioned, and every time your coach is saying something to you, you're just breathing in your helmet and that's all you can hear," Flournoy said. "I feel more conditioned and more relaxed (than last year). I feel like I'm at the line and able to grasp everything I need to do. It makes it easier."
It may seem odd for a redshirt junior to be taking tips from players farther down the perceived pecking order, but Flournoy said he is working to gain every advantage possible, and learning from players such as Woods and Marqise Lee can only help.
"They've done it before," Flournoy said. "They've put it on tape and put in the work during games. They're out here trying to push us to get to their level ... and that's what other guys, like me, George [Farmer] and Victor [Blackwell] are striving for -- to be on that same platform. So they're constantly pushing us to catch up, and that's what we're fighting for on the field."