LOS ANGELES -- At the midway point of spring practice, talented USC Trojans sophomore quarterback Max Browne still waits patiently in the background, as all eyes are focused on senior starter Cody Kessler, who is being promoted as a strong Heisman Trophy candidate for 2015.
Having once been the 2012 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year out of Skyline High in Sammamish, Washington, Browne has shown remarkable patience, class and dignity waiting in line to hopefully take his turn at Quarterback U., which has produced the likes of Heisman Trophy-winning QBs Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, as well as NFL passers Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, and Matt Barkley.
So how has Browne, a communications major with a 3.28 GPA, been able to maintain such patience?
“It’s the people I have around me,” said Browne, who saw limited action in 2014 by appearing in just six games and completing 3-of-7 passes for 30 yards and no touchdowns.
“I have great parents and a great family to look to advice for, and that’s been huge, and I have had great teammates also,” Browne added. “I am making sure I am ready when that time comes.”
For the 6-foot-4, 220-pound quarterback with the pleasantly extroverted personality, could his patience also be tied to the reality that he is just one Kessler misfortune away from coming out of the Trojans bullpen this season, along with visions of being the starter against Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2016 season opener in Dallas?
“I think so,” said Brown without a hint of arrogance. “You definitely hear the phrase, ‘I am one hit away or one snap away.’ I am definitely preparing with that mindset.
“Cody has one more year, and that game (Alabama) is kind of off in the distance. If I need that motivation, it’s definitely there. I am just focusing on this season, and the saying that ‘I am only one hit way’ is very evident in this game, as bad as it may seem to say in this kind of thing.”
Browne’s approach to this spring hasn’t gone unnoticed. Quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was the Trojans' lead recruiter during Browne’s recruitment, gives No. 4 high praise on how Browne has handled his business thus far.
“I’m unbelievably proud of Max,” Helton said after Tuesday’s practice. “What he’s done in spring is exactly what you expect from him entering his third year. We challenged him by letting him know that he isn’t stepping on Cody’s toes when he goes onto the field.
“When he’s on the field, it’s his team and we want him to run it that way. I think this is the first time since he’s been here that he has that confidence about him and he knows that it’s his group. I think he’s performing at his highest level since he’s been here.”
Despite his quarterback coach’s praise, Browne believes there are areas of his game that need improvement, although he is also comfortable with where he is at this stage of his development.
So what does he hope to accomplish by the end of spring ball?
“Well, the next level of recognition such as recognizing blitzes, recognizing coverages and who’s coming,” Browne said. “I’ve got the playbook down, and it’s been huge having [coach Steve Sarkisian] here for two years now. It’s that next level of diagnosing defenses and making sure I am working on the consistency and timing of my accuracy, which is huge, too.”
Like the great Trojans quarterbacks before him, Browne is grateful for the fact that he’s tossing the pigskin around to some of the most highly recruited receivers in the nation, and he isn’t shy to also praise some of those under-publicized yet deserving walk-ons.
“Obviously there’s JuJu (Smith) and Darreus (Rogers) and Steven (Mitchell), who kind of highlight the top, but me working with the '2s' such as Christian Tober, Robby Kolanz, Aaron Minor and David Mellstrom, they’re kind of my bunch,” Browne said of his second-unit fraternity.
“I hope I didn’t forget anyone," Browne added. "Ajene Harris when he’s healthy is huge. They’re a good group and we’re getting older, which is nice. Isaac (Whitney) is learning. A lot of those older walk-on guys have helped and have been huge for sure.”
The national hype for the 2015 Trojans has already begun, but USC fans well remember the disappointment of the 2012 team, which was a preseason No. 1 and then faltered badly as the season later unraveled.
So how does Browne see this team handling the oncoming expectations?
“I think a lot of guys probably learned from that year and making sure they’re staying grounded and taking it one practice at a time,” Browne said. “I think it’s a great job that Sark and his staff have done making it a one-period mentality, one-practice mentality. I think that’s the mindset we’ve got to take.”
And if anybody on the current Trojans roster knows about mindsets, it’s Max Browne.