Don't make Tuerk angry

LOS ANGELES -- There are two distinct sides to USC freshman offensive tackle Max Tuerk.

One is the everyday Max Tuerk, and the other is Max Tuerk the football player.

And as Marty Spaulding, his former position coach at Southern California prep-power Santa Margarita Catholic High School explained, you'd be wise to avoid the latter at all costs.

"He is an incredibly happy, balanced, sane and calm person ... until you get him on a football field, and then he becomes a stone killer," Spaulding said. "Max morphs into a competitive machine, and no matter what the circumstance is, Max goes as fast and as hard as he can on the football field."

It's that trait of unparalleled competitiveness on the gridiron that separates Tuerk not just from most other college freshmen, but from many veteran players as well. And it's something that caught the attention of the Trojans' coaching staff when they were evaluating him during the recruiting process as a Class of 2012 standout.

"He doesn't like to lose -- he's got a good football drive to him," USC offensive line coach James Cregg said. "That means something to him, and that's what you want when you're recruiting a guy. He takes things personally. He's going to do whatever it takes to be the best he can be."

Throw in Tuerk's athleticism, his 6-foot-6 and 285-pound size, and the unique tutelage that he received in working with one of the most respected high school offensive line coaches in the country in Spaulding, and it's no wonder he has made such a sudden impact with the Trojans.

In fact, his lightning-quick adjustment to the college game hasn't just been impressive, it's been history-making in a sense.

Battling with Aundrey Walker for the starting role at left tackle since it was opened up for competition in mid-September, Tuerk gained valuable playing experience in the early portion of the season. And with Walker out last week with an unspecified injury suffered against Colorado, Tuerk stepped in at Arizona to become the first true freshman ever to start at left tackle at USC.

For Tuerk, who grew up a Trojans' fan and committed on the spot when they offered in May of his junior year, it was all he could ever ask for.

"USC was my dream school since I was a kid, so it was a great experience," Tuerk said. "It's been like a dream for me to play for USC."

Needless to say, Kiffin and company are pretty thankful, too. Just this past week Kiffin noted that one of his greatest concerns heading into the season was the left tackle position -- something Tuerk has helped to remedy.

"He's just one of those guys we talk about every year that excels at coming in and spending extra time, and he's really going to be a great player," Kiffin said earlier this fall.

Part of what makes Tuerk so special is his versatility. Capable of picking up concepts and immediately translating them to his play on the field, he has the ability to play any position along the offensive line in addition to tight end -- where he lined up against Washington, as well as in the early part of his high school career.

"He's got a good football sense, a good football mind, and he adapts well to things on the fly," Cregg said. "I've just really been impressed with him so far."

Of course, Tuerk's transition hasn't come without its challenges.

"On every snap you're going against the best guy you've ever gone against, even in practice," Tuerk said. "So you've got to work your butt off every day."

And like all freshmen, he's also susceptible to making a mistake here or there. Look no further than in the Trojans' matchup with the Wildcats last Saturday. With his aggressive nature perhaps getting the best of him, Tuerk was flagged for a personal foul on a play where he appeared to block an Arizona defender after the whistle had blown. Overshadowing what was an otherwise solid performance, it was an error in judgment that he now fully realizes and hopes to grow from as a player.

"That was a stupid mistake on my part," Tuerk said. "I've definitely learned from it, and I'm going to get better from it."

And when Tuerk says that, you believe him. A tireless worker, he already has developed a reputation as one of the offensive line's most coachable young members.

"For me it's all about effort, and I always try to give 100 percent," Tuerk said. "I never want a coach to yell at me because of a lack of effort. I like to work -- that's my style I guess."

With a mindset like that, perhaps it's no surprise that Tuerk has made such an indelible mark so early in his Trojans career. And it's just one more reason to believe his best days are still ahead of him.

"With him, he's always going to adjust and give you everything he's got, and he's going to improve," Cregg said. "I expect him to just keep getting better."