USC linebacker Brian Cushing had scholarship offers from most of the country coming out of Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey. Cushing’s father preferred Notre Dame for his son for college, but Brian chose USC and never looked back.AP FILE PHOTO
LOS ANGELES — Linebacker Brian Cushing played so well at Bergen Catholic High in Oradell, N.J., that he had his choice of colleges, with Notre Dame and Southern California among those who came courting.
Frank Cushing preferred Notre Dame for his son, no surprise considering the family’s Irish-Catholic background.
It appeared the elder Cushing was going to get his wish, but after coach Tyrone Willingham and his staff were fired, his son changed his mind, eventually chose USC and never looked back. It took some time, but Cushing’s father finally came around.
“(Notre Dame) was his favorite school, he wanted me to go there,” Cushing said. “To this day, he says this was the right school for me.”
Charlie Weis, Willingham’s successor, tried to recruit Cushing after Willingham was fired, but to no avail.
“He’s a good guy, I liked what he was saying,” Cushing said.
Not enough, obviously. So Cushing headed west, where he became a starter late in his freshman year and has excelled ever since, when healthy.
“The word tenacious is Cush,” USC coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s just an old-fashioned football player who loves to play the game with all the grit and dirt and savvy. Very physical, very tough, very athletic. He’s 255 (pounds), he can run.”
The 6-foot-3 senior took the company line when asked about completing his college career.
“Just finishing strong, that’s what the whole program is based on,” he said.
No. 5 USC (9-1) shoots for its seventh straight victory over Notre Dame (6-5) on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum before facing crosstown rival UCLA on Dec. 6.
Cushing might have made himself available for the NFL draft last April, but he was slowed by a sprained left ankle most of the 2007 season, so he returned for his senior year.
“I came back, had a healthy year, played good ball,” Cushing said. “I’m definitely more experienced now and a better player, absolutely. And I think I showed Trojan fans what I could do.”
Cushing showed the country what he could do nearly two years ago, when he forced a fumble and made seven tackles, four for losses, in USC’s 32-18 triumph over Michigan in the Rose Bowl to earn the defensive player of the game award.
“He’s got a real good attitude, he’s really tough, cares a lot about football,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., said. “He’s big, strong and a real good athlete. When you put it all together, you’ve got a great player.”
Cushing made believers of teammates a long time ago.
“Cush has unbelievable intensity,” offensive lineman Alex Parsons said. “It’s off the charts. He’s going 100 percent on every play. In three years of being here, I’ve never seen Cush take a play off. He’s an animal.”
Cushing has played a key role in USC’s exceptional defensive effort this season with 35 tackles including 7 1/2 for losses; 25 assists, and four passes broken up. The Trojans lead the country in scoring defense (8.3 points) and are second in total defense (222.5 yards).
“Cush doesn’t like to get beat,” defensive end Kyle Moore said. “When it does happen, he has a fit about it. He comes back the next play and takes your head off. There’s no slacking in Cush.”
Cushing hesitated to name high points of his career before saying: “You’ve got the Rose Bowls, all the Rose Bowls were special. Just playing ball.”
As far as the low points: “Just a little homesick here and there.”
The Trojans are 41-6 in Cushing’s four years, but he wouldn’t classify the losses as low points.
“That’s part of the experience that comes with the territory,” he said. “You learn from that.”
Carroll, a former head coach with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, believes Cushing will excel in the NFL.
“I think they’re going to wind up playing him inside. He’ll love that,” Carroll said. “He’s going to be very good.”