Making the trek across the country from Sunshine State powerhouse Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln in 2009, Jawanza Starling would develop into a sturdy presence for the Trojans at strong safety. A three-year starter, he amassed 128 tackles in his time on campus, but he's most likely to be remembered for coming up big in the clutch -- most notably in 2011, when he picked up a fumble and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown in USC's 31-17 victory over Notre Dame.
Now gearing up for the "Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game" (Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas), the recent graduate took time out to give a quick update on what he's been up to over the last few weeks, while also taking a look back on his Trojans career.
WeAreSC: First off, I understand you recently graduated. When did you wrap things up, and what did you receive your degree in?
Starling: I graduated in December with a degree in PPD -- Public Policy and Management with a Health Administration focus. I'm pretty excited, especially being able to finish in three-and-a-half years. It's something that nobody can ever take away from me.
WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the conclusion of the football season?
Starling: I've just been training for the combine, the all-star games and pro day. It's been pretty intense ... two-a-days basically -- two workouts a day. And then just recuperating my body in the off-time. I'm just trying to get my form, my speed and my strength up. I'll be playing in the "Texas vs. The Nation Game" on the 2nd.
WeAreSC: Are you training locally in Southern California?
Starling: I'm training in Westlake [Westlake Village, Calif.] at The Factory, Elite Performance.
WeAreSC: Looking back on your time at USC, do you have a top on-field memory that sticks out in your mind?
Starling: I would probably say my fumble recovery against Notre Dame last year.
WeAreSC: You also came up with a crucial play against Washington this past October when you forced and recovered a fumble when the Huskies were making a comeback bid. Have you always been a clutch performer, and is that something that you take pride in?
Starling: I always try to be a guy who makes the most out of my opportunities. When it's my chance to make a play, I try to do my best to make a play and be in the right position, doing my assignment right to be able to make the play. So, that's one of the things that I do always try to focus on.
WeAreSC: If you had to name one or two coaches at USC who had an especially profound impact on you, who would they be?
Starling: I would have to say Monte Kiffin and Marvin Sanders. I would say Monte just because of his knowledge and his teaching of the schemes, and just the experience of getting to play with a coach with such a strong resume. And then Coach Marvin Sanders because of his technique, his fundamentals and his consistency with his coaching -- it just really helped me out this past year.
WeAreSC: What are you going to miss most about being a student at USC?
Starling: I guess what I'm going to miss most is just the chance to be able to sit next to people in class that are going to be successful in the future. And to get to rub elbows with past alumni, and then the students that you were in class with, and just knowing that down the road that those can be business partners or somebody that you might have to rely on to help you out in any situation.
WeAreSC: What was your favorite class that you took at USC?
Starling: I would have to say my health management class this past semester -- PPD 413. First of all, I like the professor -- Professor Richard Hagy -- he actually works at the USC hospital. It was a good experience just to be able to learn from somebody in the field that I see myself going into in the future. It was a once-a-week class, but we just learned a lot of applicable things to use in the future.
WeAreSC: Favorite on- or off-campus eating spot?
Starling: I would have to say Chipotle, or maybe Roscoe's off campus.
WeAreSC: As a guy who came out from Florida in 2009, talk about what life has been like for you on the West Coast these last four years.
Starling: I adjusted to it very well. People are different wherever you go. The atmosphere of the people here is more laid back than back home where I'm from. And I'm a laid-back person in general, so I kind of adjusted easily. But the weather is pretty much the same. You have good weather most of the year -- it doesn't rain as much out here as it does back home. But other than that, the transition wasn't difficult for me.
WeAreSC: Talk about what this whole experience of playing for USC has meant to you.
Starling: First of all, it's the tradition of all of the guys that came before me. The Ronnie Lotts, the Marcus Allens, the Junior Seaus, the Carson Palmers, the Reggie Bushes ... the great players that form the lineage of SC Trojans. And pretty much, you always had to walk around with a target on your back, because everybody that wasn't a Trojan, wanted either to be you or beat you. So, there was an us vs. the world attitude that I always shared with my teammates, and I think that was the main impressive thing to me about being a Trojan.
WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?
Starling: Over these last couple of years, we've had our ups and downs, but it's always good to know that we have die-hard SC fans, and that the Trojan family stays strong through the good and bad.