LOS ANGELES -- If USC Trojans junior inside linebacker Anthony Sarao looks a little East Coast angry, it's because the New Jersey native and the rest of his teammates are trying to get through what head coach Steve Sarkisian affectionately calls the "dog days of camp.”
"We've got through the first week of two-a-days, and once you get past the first two-a-days, everybody starts getting grumpy,” Sarao said. "We hit the same people, but even if you're hitting the same people, you still have to keep a smile on your face.”
Sarao says the Trojans coaching staff understands the challenges of the "dog days” of camp, and has warned the Men of Troy that they won't get much compassion from any upcoming and potential opponents.
"We still have to give effort,” Sarao said. "Like the coaches say, the people across town (UCLA) and Eugene (Oregon), they don't care how we feel. We just have to be ourselves and just grind.”
For the Trojans' No. 56, it's all about strength in numbers.
Last season was quite a challenge in terms of limited linebacker numbers, and the muscular 6-foot, 220-pound Sarao smiles wide when the new Trojans freshmen linebackers are brought up.
In fact, nobody was more grateful at the arrival of the heralded newcomers than Sarao, a policy, planning and development major with a real estate track.
"I love it,” Sarao gushed. "First off, we now have a lot of linebackers. In spring and before last season, we had only about five of us. So now, we've got a lot more reps and a lot more time and a lot of young guys who are real curious and ready to learn. It just feels good.”
And which young linebackers in training camp have caught Sarao's eye?
"I like them all from Uchenna (Nwosu) to "O” (Olajuwon Tucker),” Sarao said. "I like them all. Yes sir.”
According to the Sarao, who originally committed to Stanford before signing with the Trojans in 2011, the Cardinal and Gold defense has shown great progress since the arrival of first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and the implementation of his new defense during spring ball.
"Everybody has adjusted to it well, and the coaches have done a nice job of breaking it down and showing us what we've got to do,” Sarao said. "They're not too hard on us. They're able to break it right down and teach us the right ways and it's working.
"I am liking our effort. We're definitely bringing it. It's still early out there, and I mean there are still a lot of mistakes out there obviously, and we need to iron some things out, but we have to have effort first and see how we run to the ball. I like how we're doing.”
From having first arrived from Egg Harbor Township (N.J.) and Holy Spirit High to redshirting his freshman season at Troy, Sarao maintains that being a returning starter and an upperclassman has special meaning.
"It's a humbling experience,” said Sarao, who started for the Trojans in the final seven games of 2013 and recorded 44 tackles for the season. "I mean it makes me come out here and work harder and also help the young guys out.”
And if you're expecting to Sarao to rest on his starting laurels and give in to the hot August heat of Los Angeles, as they say back home in Jersey…