Jake Lichtenstein Chooses USC Football

USC DE Jake Lichtenstein’s long road to a breakthrough game

The Trojans’ DE, who once considered giving up the sport, came up with two sacks last week in Colorado…

Adam Grosbard (OC Register)  —  Jake Lichtenstein couldn’t afford to think about it too much in the moment, as he recorded not just the first but also the second sack of his college career. USC still had a game to play, one the Trojans would go on to win.

It was only after the victory over Colorado was complete that Lichtenstein could begin to reflect on the milestone and all the moments when he questioned whether this could actually happen. The recurring injury, the surgery, the pandemic.

“Just being away from the game for that long, it really just builds so much love inside me for it,” Lichtenstein (97) said after practice Tuesday, hair put up in a bun atop his head, at ease. “I just don’t take it for granted, so yeah, it meant everything to me.”

Dark times

To really appreciate what Saturday meant to Lichtenstein, you need to start in the summer of 2019. The defensive end from Florida had completed his redshirt freshman season and a spring that left him feeling encouraged about his path moving forward.

Unable to escape the pain in his lower leg, Lichtenstein found himself contemplating medically retiring.

“Man, it did not sit well,” he said of that idea. “That was a tough point. I didn’t really know what the future held.”

After several months, it was found that Lichtenstein had compartment syndrome, a condition in which pressure builds in a muscle’s compartment following an injury. He had a fasciotomy that December to relieve the swelling in his calf, cutting open tissue around the muscle to relieve the pressure.

But even as he began rehab, it was still tough for Lichtenstein to get out of his mental funk and he began adding bad weight to his frame.

“He lost his confidence a little bit and was really starting to wonder if he was going to be able to do this for the next couple years,” his mother, Gretchen, said. “When you’re away at school and things are not going your way, it’s super easy to just Uber Eats.”

By the time the pandemic struck and Lichtenstein returned home to Florida, he had put on about 20 pounds of fat. He was a year removed from playing football and physically was further away from his goals of contributing at USC than he had ever been.

But home was where Lichtenstein was supposed to be. Gretchen is an athletic trainer, certified by the International Federation of Bodybuilding, and knew she could get her son back to where he wanted to be, if he still wanted to be there.

“I went, ‘Look, it’s your choice. You can do with this what you want. You can either go all in or you can start thinking about what you’re going to do when you graduate, because it won’t be playing football,’” Gretchen recalled.

Though gyms were locked down, Gretchen still had access and the mother-son duo went every morning at 7 o’clock. Lichtenstein worked out in three one-hour blocks each day, with weight training, running and other conditioning drills mixed in.

And Gretchen revamped his diet, cutting out fast food and replacing it with lean meats and organic meals. Soon, he lost 10 pounds while adding muscle, increasing his squats to the 450-465-pound range.

“I really felt like I could stay healthy and do this,” Lichtenstein said. “Just training every day and feeling that and gaining the confidence, it made me work harder.”

To play or not to play

Lichtenstein returned to USC during the summer of 2020 for voluntary workouts, but no one really knew what the future had in store for college football. That August, the Pac-12 announced it was postponing the season to the spring. A month later, the conference announced a return to play with a six-game schedule.

But would that season be postponed again? Would positive COVID-19 cases cut seasons down even further, making it pointless to take part? Would it even be worth it to play in empty stadiums? Lichtenstein had his doubts and began considering opting out for the year.

“He went back and forth a million times,” Gretchen said.

The USC coaches tried to convince him to play, but eventually he decided to return home to Florida rather than play in 2020.

“It was just a lot of uncertainty at the time and I was finishing up my degree,” said Lichtenstein, who has since graduated with a bachelor’s in non-governmental organizations and social change. “I felt like it was the right thing to do to just finish up my academics and just focus on that with how much uncertainty was going on.”

But once the games started and Lichtenstein was watching them on the couch at home, the decision started to weigh on him.

“Horrible,” Gretchen described it. “‘I should be there, I could help.’ That’s all he could say. He would watch and, ugh, it was rough.”

When December rolled around, Lichtenstein got a call from defensive line coach Vic So’oto again pleading his case for the defensive end to return to the team. He reiterated that the Trojans needed Lichtenstein’s size.

Lichtenstein felt the itch to return and, with classes wrapping up for the semester, the timing made sense. A week later, he was on a plane to Los Angeles. He wasn’t able to get back into football shape in time to play in a game, but he was back where he belonged.

“There’s something about being out there. Those are his guys, those are his brothers. They’re a team, they count on each other. It’s a different kind of family, but it’s still like his family,” Gretchen said. “So he was happy to get back, and now he’s eating it up.”

The moment you’ve been waiting for

During the first few weeks of the 2021 season, Lichtenstein carved out a sizable role for himself on the defensive line, arguably USC’s most talented position group. He was contributing, a couple tackles here, one for loss there. But there was still a milestone he needed to cross off.

It came in the first quarter against Colorado. The quarterback stepped up in the pocket as Lichtenstein slipped off his blocker. The junior swallowed up the passer and brought him down for his first career sack, springing up and prancing away in momentary celebration.

The capper came in the fourth quarter, when Lichtenstein got another sack, rolling the quarterback over onto the ground. Defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu stood flexing over Lichtenstein, who jumped up and interlocked his right arm with his teammate’s.

Both of Lichtenstein’s parents and one of his two sisters were in the crowd for the moment, which felt surreal after all he had been through to make it here.

“That’s the happiest he’s been after a game that I’ve seen,” Gretchen said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him because he puts in the work, he does the stuff in the training room before hours when he doesn’t need to be, because he knows that stuff pays off. I couldn’t possibly be more proud of him.”

ocregister.com

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LawyerJohn
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LawyerJohn (@lawyerjohn)
October 8, 2021 1:39 pm

Just seeing those two behemoths, Neanderthals actually, preparing to square off with each other reminds me of chicken-me, playing quarterback or split end as a means of avoiding football confrontations and going for the glory (and the girls)… Pardon me, but why are certain Trojan fans giving up on SC winning the South. In all probability, SC is now compelled to run the Pac-12 table, but Troy has arguably the easiest schedule of the candidates Utah and ASU (sucla is an afterthought). Front-runner ASU might only lose 2 games, but if one is against SC, the Trojans are in… ASU… Read more »

TrojanRJJ
Member
Mt Rushmore
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
October 8, 2021 8:59 am

I had to post about UCLA chocking it. They had a top 10 finish in sight but their pass defense collapsed in the 4th Quarter against Fresno State. They had the Pac 12 South Championship in their sights, but their pass defense (and offense) collapsed in the 4th Quarter. UCLA is now unranked and trailing ASU by 2 games. The Bruins seem to be unable to avoid being the Bruins. I really love it. They will need now to run the table. I expect they will bury AZ on Saturday. And then they must play WA in Seattle and Oregon… Read more »

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
October 8, 2021 9:55 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

😄

Chris
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Chris (@chris)
October 8, 2021 11:10 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Love it! I hope the lose every game forever.

John Weld
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John Weld (@johnnynumbers)
October 8, 2021 12:29 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

I am certainly happy with those numbers.

Golden Trojan
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Golden Trojan (@golden-trojan)
October 8, 2021 1:08 pm
Reply to  Allen Wallace

USC is 203-78, .722. Even with the dreadfull Hackett and Helton years. Better to be a Trojan than a Ruin any day.

Steveg
Member
Mt Rushmore
Steveg (@steveg)
October 8, 2021 1:09 pm
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Ucla has without question the most inconsistent QB in college ball. Along with all the other things RJJ listed. I hope USC pressures DTR to no end and watch him fall completely apart. Now if USC can stop the run game, we win. We should win. Who knows what USC team will show up.

TrojanRJJ
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Mt Rushmore
TrojanRJJ (@trojanrjj)
October 8, 2021 8:54 am

While I realize this is a throw away season for SC, Saturday’s game will decide if SC has a legitimate shot at 3rd in the Pac South. If SC loses to Utah, it will have 3 league losses, putting it 3 games behind ASU and UCLA and then 4 games behind Utah. That will almost assure SC of 4th place. If they win, the floor is probably 3rd. We know that both AZ and CO will battle for 5th and 6th. I expect the loser of the CO/AZ game will go winless in league and the winner will have only… Read more »

rleeholder1
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Noble Member
rleeholder1 (@rleeholder1)
October 8, 2021 9:14 am
Reply to  TrojanRJJ

Bring back Sunny Byrd!

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
October 8, 2021 4:37 am

Wait…USC offers a degree in Non-governmental Organizations and Social Change? WTF! Oh, that should translate to a fulfilling career after football! SMH

alfa1
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alfa1 (@alfa1)
October 8, 2021 8:08 am
Reply to  ATL D.D.S.

Yeah…NGO studies..breeding ground for CIA recruiting.

ATL D.D.S.
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ATL D.D.S. (@atl-d-d-s)
October 8, 2021 9:54 am
Reply to  alfa1

😆

alfa1
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alfa1 (@alfa1)
October 8, 2021 8:13 am
Reply to  Allen Wallace

Woods was over the top last night, key receptions.
Stafford trade was definitely a step in the right direction, Seahawks got out played and out coached last night.

Steveg
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Mt Rushmore
Steveg (@steveg)
October 7, 2021 7:02 pm

Oregon lost their #1 running back for the season. Verdell.

Steveg
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Mt Rushmore
Steveg (@steveg)
October 7, 2021 6:22 pm

Wow, what a mom. That is one lucky guy and his hard work will pay off for him.