Long after the majority of his teammates had left the field Tuesday morning after a conditioning workout and throwing session, USC junior cornerback Nickell Robey was still out there going through drills with a handful of younger teammates.
Specifically, Robey was working with freshman walk-on cornerback Ryan Dillard on coverage techniques and body positioning. It's a time-honored tradition to show newcomers the "Trojan Way" of doing things. As a three-year starter and team leader, Robey readily accepts that responsibility.
"I know guys are looking at me now," Robey said. "They watch the way I do things and how I work, so I never back down. When it comes time to play a game, I'm going to need them by my side. That's the only way we're going to be successful.
"Shareece [Wright] taught it to me when I first got here and now I'm just passing it along. He taught me the ins and outs of the game, talked about the obstacles he had overcome to succeed and that's what I want to do with these younger players too."
The Trojans are certainly fortunate to have plenty of veteran players who set a good example and Robey does it as well as any of them. USC coach Lane Kiffin often tells a story about Robey -- as a freshman -- standing up in his first team meeting and talking about how he was going to do things the right way at USC.
It didn't take Robey long to prove it on the field either. He earned a starting cornerback spot for his first game as a true freshman. He endured early struggles adjusting to the college game, but was named first team All-Pac-12 in 2011.
Robey knows big things are expected from the Trojans this season -- if they are to happen, the defense must prevent big passing plays. Last year the Trojans were ranked No. 115 out of 120 teams in the nation in terms of giving up plays of more than ten yards on first down. Robey thinks he knows why the Trojans will reverse that trend in 2012.
"First of all, I think we played a lot better in the second half of the season," Robey said. "We just need to continue that improvement. We've got the guys, we're a real deep group and we can all count on each other. I call it the icing on the cake, we have played well but now we just need to go out there and apply the finishing touches."
One of the keys to that second-half surge, Robey said, was a meeting he had with USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin.
"I talked with Coach Monte and told him I was real comfortable in my coverage skills so I thought that would allow us to blitz more," Robey said. "The first test for me came the next week against Notre Dame when I covered Michael Floyd the whole game. He's a lot bigger than me but I held him to four catches and it showed that I could do the job. I really appreciate him giving me the freedom to be aggressive like that. I feel like I get to be myself out there now."
The Florida native says he is also able to "be himself" at USC, having adjusted to the California lifestyle. He's still a Florida boy at heart but he has gained an appreciation for his new home as well.
"I consider myself a part of both places now," Robey said, laughing. "I love Florida to death, it's my community, it's where my family still lives. I had a lot of struggles back in Florida though and, in terms of day-to-day living, it seems like California has been like stress relief for me. The people, the environment, everything has been happy and positive."
Robey and his USC teammates will look to continue those positive feelings into the 2012 season and he says the team has a good frame of mind as they prepare for what lies ahead.
"Having Matt [Barkley] and T.J. [McDonald] come back this year has made things real comfortable for all of us players," Robey said. "Now we can just focus on doing our jobs. We're a real hungry team and we want success. If we can do what we're supposed to do, it can be a huge season."