Galippo getting by on smarts

USC's starting middle linebacker, Chris Galippo, is 22, young by most standards, but not by his own.

The fifth-year senior is starting to feel old on the field with the Trojans, or a lot older than the incoming freshmen who are, in some cases, a full five years younger than him. His body has reacted differently to the first two practices of the fall-camp season than their bodies.

"Yesterday after practice, I felt it," Galippo said Friday. "Some of these guys that are 17 or 18 years old, they're jogging off and getting ready to go home and play video games. I'm kinda limping off and getting ready to go in the ice tub and go right to bed.

"It's just different."

He's had back issues dating back to September 2007, when he suffered a herniated disk in his second month practicing with the Trojans. It's under control of late, mostly by virtue of him sitting out the spring to nurse a sore back, but it's clearly still an ongoing thing to watch. Galippo said Friday he feels better than he ever has since the injury, but he stopped short of saying that he feels like he did when he first arrived on campus.

"That was four or five years ago," he said. "I was 17 years old then. I'm 22 now."

Regardless, rehab is the name of the game this season for him. He has only one class scheduled for the fall semester and expects to spend hours each day after practice in the training room making sure he stays as healthy as possible. It seems as if, unlike some seniors, he's directing most of his thinking toward this season exclusively -- not what could follow in the NFL later on. Perhaps that's because of the back issues. Perhaps it's simply because of Galippo's team-focused mentality.

But he's been sharp through two practices, leading a young linebacking corps and making timely plays of his own, like a tipped pass Thursday that led to a Shane Horton interception. And that's why he's going to be the Trojans' middle linebacker this season.

"That's the type of play that somebody that really understands what's going on makes," coach Lane Kiffin said of Galippo's Thursday tip. "That's what great defensive players, especially linebackers, do."

Since Kiffin's regime arrived on campus at USC until this summer, Galippo had been competing with Devon Kennard for that spot, a contentious battle that sometimes leaned one way and sometimes leaned the other. It was likely that was going to happen again this fall, until the coaches stepped in and moved Kennard back to end, his original position.

Galippo said it changes his perspective to be the main guy and not one of two anymore.

"To have the consistency and to be able to focus and not have to worry about anything, it's easier to prepare, it's easier to be more confident on the field," he said. "It's easier to mess up when you don't have someone looming over your shoulders."

There's always someone, though. Now that person is freshman Lamar Dawson, a highly-touted player from Kentucky who was given the iconic No. 55 upon his arrival at USC. Galippo said Dawson still has lot to learn in the way of the defensive playbook, and he's taking some time in camp to do what he can to teach him.

He's also leading by example on the field in his own way, he said -- by barking out calls while in a defensive set and even while on the sidelines, watching the younger players struggle to get set.

"I'm naturally extremely vocal," Galippo said Friday. "The offense thrives on me messing up, because I absolutely just talk so much in practice. And it's just part of my game that I enjoy and I think that it helps a lot of these younger guys, especially these freshmen, get a taste of how to deal with adversity.

"I think I lead in different ways. That's one of them."