Last summer, when USC first divided into separate weight-lifting sessions, Justin Dedich made a request. The redshirt senior and soon-to-be captain wanted to switch into the same group as redshirt freshman Mason Murphy.
Dedich had seen something special in the young offensive tackle, and he was not the only one within USC’s veteran offensive line group. Several months later, when Murphy made his first start as USC’s right tackle Saturday against Arizona, Dedich and redshirt junior lineman Jonah Monheim both referred to Murphy as the Trojans’ “most talented” player up front.
“That kid has a lot in front of him,” Dedich said, “and he’s working to get it.”
“There’s no doubt,” Monheim added, “he’s such a talented kid.”
That talent has taken some time to develop. Not to mention some “tough love” from USC’s veteran linemen, each of whom seems to have decided to take Murphy under their wing.
From those summer sessions on, they made it a point to hold the young tackle accountable.
“Dedich and [center] Brett [Neilon] and Jonah and all those guys have been on him, and they’ve pushed him and they set a good example for him,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “And I give Mason credit, he’s followed. We’ve been hard on him. He’s got some real talent, he’s really got a chance to be a good player, but he’s needed to grow up and mature and really kind of press forward.”
That development really sped up this summer, with Murphy healed from a broken foot — and his fellow linemen closely monitoring his progress.
“We were all trying to get on him every day to get him to do the right things, to take every day each day at a time and prove [it] every day,” Monheim said. “Because he’s a super talented guy. If he does the right thing day in and day out, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Few seem to recognize that talent on the recruiting trail, where Murphy was a three-star prospect and the 48th-rated offensive tackle in the nation, according to 247 Sports. Two years later, he’s the centerpiece of USC’s future plans along the offensive line, where the Trojans are likely to see significant turnover in the offseason. Neilon, left tackle Bobby Haskins and left guard Andrew Vorhees will graduate, while Dedich has one last year of eligibility to use but could also declare for the draft.
USC got a brief glimpse of where its future at the position stands last Saturday when Vorhees was held out because of an injury. While Dedich flipped to the left side and Monheim shifted inside, Murphy stepped up in at right tackle.
Each of USC’s linemen were brimming with confidence ahead of the redshirt freshman’s first start.
“We knew he was ready,” Monheim said. “[My advice was] just go out there and don’t hesitate. You’re good enough, you prepared well enough. Just let it fly, let it rip. We’ve got his back no matter what. That’s what I told him. I think he did that.”
After four starters sat out the win over Arizona, Riley said his “gut feel” was that a few of USC’s injured players would be able to return Saturday against California.
Among that injured group are several key contributors critical to the Trojans’ stretch run. Wideouts Jordan Addison and Mario Williams, linebacker Eric Gentry and Vorhees participated in some capacity at practice Tuesday, Riley said.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that will be close for the game,” Riley said. “My gut feel is we’ll probably end up getting a few of them back, maybe not all. But very good progress. I don’t think that I’d definitively say anybody’s for sure in, I’m certainly not in position to say anybody’s for sure out right now.”