Anthony Lucas Goes Back to the Drawing Board

USC’s Anthony Lucas among returning defensive players with ‘a lot to prove’

After a decidedly subpar 2023 following his transfer from A&M, the versatile 6-foot-5, 275-pound DL has been a big standout during spring practice

USC defensive lineman Anthony Lucas goes through drills during a spring practice earlier this month at Howard Jones Field. After a subpar 2023 in transferring from Texas A&M, the versatile Lucas has been a noted standout this spring. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
DL Anthony Lucas goes through spring practice drills earlier this month at Howard Jones Field. After a subpar 2023 season, the versatile A&M transfer has been a noted standout this spring. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

Luca Evans (OC Register —  LOS ANGELES — Eric Gentry will never forget the number 116, because it has been weaponized around USC, a painful trigger pressed over and over and over again as a reminder of the season that was lost.

116. It comes after every defensive workout, one additional set of repetitions, as Gentry described after USC’s final spring practice on Thursday. One more rep for every rung USC dropped in total-defense rankings in 2023. 116 reps. 116th in yards-per-game allowed. A cardinal-red stain on the back of the returning Trojans’ jerseys, the reminder glistening in every drop of sweat.

“If you don’t feel like you got (something) to prove here,” Gentry said Thursday, “you shouldn’t be here, really.”

Not exactly a novel idea, the notion that the holdovers on this USC defense would be motivated by the mess that was 2023, the midseason demise of coordinator Alex Grinch and any sort of championship hopes quickly derailed. But many of those individuals, simply, don’t just have something to prove – they have no choice but to prove it, time ticking on next-level hopes and collegiate dreams as stocks have dropped.

And few have more left to prove than Anthony Lucas.

The former five-star defensive lineman came to USC via the transfer portal in January 2023, seeking a fresh start and a clean slate, after a quiet freshman season that ended in embarrassment at Texas A&M: a suspension due to a locker room incident after a loss. He left an immediate impression, impossible to overlook his 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame; he started off the edge in USC’s first game of the fall against San Jose State, recording 37 snaps.

By their final regular-season game against UCLA, Lucas earned all of two snaps, finishing the season with seven tackles, nine pressures and not a single sack.

“I mean, it wasn’t really good,” Lucas said Thursday, when asked how he would assess his performance last season. “So I mean, I gotta get back to the drawing board and get back to it.”

What were specific things he identified to work on?

“Everything.”

It was perfectly simple, Lucas generally being a man of few words with reporters. It was also everything that needed to be said.

And instead of continuing to fade in USC’s defensive line plans under new coach Eric Henderson’s regime, Lucas has been one of the most hotly-buzzed names of spring camp, bulked up and making an instant impact to coaches and teammates alike.

“He’s much more consistent,” head coach Lincoln Riley said Tuesday. “It’s not just like a flash play here and there. I think he’s one of the guys that have really taken to the new scheme, the new style up front – it’s really fit what he needed to become as a player. … I think he’s growing up, and I think the scheme and the coaching fit have been very positive for him.”

It was readily easily to forget, under his imposing build, that Lucas was still a fairly inexperienced sophomore last season, which defensive ends coach Shaun Nua pointed to as the reason for his struggles last year. After slimming to 265 pounds as part of USC’s defense last year, Lucas is back up to 275, a mass he said Thursday has allowed him to move faster and with more confidence.

And on a revamped defensive front with an emphasis on versatility – which the returning Nua called “a different way of doing things” – Lucas had stood out, a lineman who has been working both inside and on the edge.

“We might have four fast guys in there, or four big guys in there,” Nua said last week. “So it’s a very versatile defense, and that’s the beauty about it.”

Under Nua and Henderson, USC has assembled a stockpile of malleable, stocky defensive linemen, from Vanderbilt transfer Nate Clifton to 6-6 freshman Kameryn Fountain, who Nua said had “all the talent in the world.” But after Texas A&M transfer Isaiah Raikes hit the portal again in a matter of months, Lucas’ continued development has only become more important, Nua singling out the junior as the most versatile piece of USC’s defensive line.

“I think Ant, especially, is becoming more focused, even more,” Gentry said. “He didn’t have a lot of opportunities that he felt – to display himself last year, or the snap count fell off.”

ocregister.com

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Steveg
Noble Genius
Steveg
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April 19, 2024 6:35 pm

Mike Williams to be USC Director of Player Development. Welcome back big Mike.

Jamaica
Noble Genius
Jamaica
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April 19, 2024 1:32 pm

You have to root for Lucas & Gentry and the others who are sticking it out trying to up their game getting playing time and not bolting. They see the real value being a Trojan.

Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan
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April 19, 2024 11:58 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

The NFL has used the technology since 1994. That’s the problem with the NCAA, 30 years behind the times. Player compensation, football play off format, communication technology should have happened years ago.

RialtoTrojan
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RialtoTrojan
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April 20, 2024 10:42 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Sign stealing as a real problem is a silly concept. The teams have employed scouts for as long as I can remember. The scouts note the tendencies of future opponents and report them. Furthermore the coaches and sideline goofs hold up huge signs that everyone watching can see. Are opposing coaches supposed to ignore them? As far as using radio communication on the field, what’s the rule about intercepting the signals? Will A.I. play a part in cheating? The opposite team has an A. I. generated version of the voice heard by the defense and sends the wrong message. Will… Read more »

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