While addressing reporters at Pac-12 media day, commissioner Larry Scott said the conference is thinking about scheduling a few 2019 regular season games for 9 a.m. Pacific Time. One Pac-12 student athlete who’d most definitely be up for the early challenge is USC’s Michael Pittman Jr.
“I’ll play morning, I’ll play night,” he said. “I’ll play at 3 am, I’ll play at 12 pm. It doesn’t matter. Whenever there’s a chance to play ball, catch me right there.”
Pittman’s focused on making his last season as a USC wide receiver count, regardless of kickoff times.
“I’m trying to check every box and just make sure that I can’t say, ‘what if?’”
— Blake Atwell (@blakeatwell5) July 24, 2019
Pittman, who led the Pac-12 with 18.5 yards per reception in 2018, leads a deep USC receiving core. Fellow wideouts Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns recorded over 600 receiving yards each last season. Pittman was particularly impressed by St. Brown, who led the team in receptions as just a freshman.
“That guy is a straight machine,” Pittman said of St. Brown. “Honestly, I haven’t seen him change because he doesn’t need to change. He’s the same guy [this season] and he’s just a straight dude.”
Incoming freshmen Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford enter USC as high school All-American standouts who’ll also be competing for snaps. Pittman strives to maintain a healthy balance between competitiveness and comroterty as the most experienced receiver of the group.
He describes the wideouts rather simply.
“Basically, you can’t cover everybody.”
Pittman draws inspiration from former Trojan wideouts, including current NFL receivers Juju Smith and Nelson Agholor. Pittman’s confident his skillset will grant him the same post-USC success that Smith and Agholor have experienced at the next level.
— Blake Atwell (@blakeatwell5) July 25, 2019
“I still have a lot of stuff to work on but I feel like I got what it takes,” he said. “There’s no job that’s too small. I will do anything to get on the field. I’m willing to work.”
Pittman names route running and releases as two areas he’s improved in since enduring postseason shoulder surgery. He notes the Trojans’ strength training and simplified offensive scheme as the biggest differences with this year’s team. Pittman learned first-year offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s scheme in three days and believes the system will nicely benefit sophomore quarterback JT Daniels.
“I feel like it works perfectly to him because he’s just a straight passer,” Pittman said of Daniels. “He’s a drop back guy that’s gonna pick you apart and I feel like this offense is advantageous to his skillset.”
Pittman also continues to voice his support of head coach Clay Helton, who received heavy backlash after the Trojans finished last season at 5-7. He cites the respect Helton has from his team, despite the outside chatter.
“I don’t think that anybody on our team would ever turn our back on [Helton] because, honestly, he’s been such a great all-out man to us and I feel like none of us take that for granted,” Pittman said. “We want [Helton] to be our coach forever. We want him to be at SC until he decides he doesn’t want to coach anymore.”
He describes the vibe around USC as “upbeat” ahead of a 2019 slate that features three road games and a clash with Stanford within the season’s first six weeks. Pittman names confidence, toughness and energy as the main keys to USC surviving early.
“Just have that energy to finish games that maybe we didn’t finish last year,” he said. “If we just keep that rolling. I feel like every game we were [so] close.”
One game that Pittman will be paying special attention to on USC’s 2019 schedule is their November 2nd matchup with Oregon. It’ll be a family affair for Pittman, as his little brother Mycah enters his freshman season as a wideout for the Ducks.
“He’s always talking about Oregon,” Pittman said. “[Justin] Herbert this, Herbert’s the greatest, Herbert’s the best. I’m just like ‘dude, chill out.’”
Taking the more “chill” approach is something Pittman’s always identified with. His favorite off-field activities include fishing, kayaking and any other water-related activity. A San Fernando Valley native, he’s taken full advantage of staying in Southern California for college.
“It’s an honor and blessing to be put in this spot because it could’ve been anybody else,” he said.
Pittman doesn’t have any specific statistical goals for his senior season. He intends to post his best season yet, fully aware that the clock on his college football career is ticking.
“That’s what’s driven me to take that next step,” he said. “Working harder than I’ve ever worked before just knowing that I don’t get another shot at this and this is my last chance.”
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.