Exit interview: USC OL Abe Markowitz

Arriving at USC as a walk-on in 2008 after turning down scholarship opportunities from several other programs such as Michigan State and Miami (Ohio), Abe Markowitz went on to make quite a name for himself as a Trojan, embodying the university’s trademark battle cry, “Fight On,” in just about every way imaginable.

Garnering a reputation as a tireless worker with the ability to contribute at both center and guard, the Honolulu Punahou graduate was awarded a scholarship just before the 2010 season by then-USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Ultimately sidelined that fall as well as the next because of foot injuries, he worked his way back into the best shape of his career and enjoyed a successful 2012 campaign, appearing in 11 games, including two as a starter.

Informed last offseason that USC no longer had room for him primarily because of an issue involving scholarship limitations stemming from NCAA sanctions, Markowitz came close to landing at the University of Hawaii, but in somewhat of a surprise turn of events, he eventually rejoined the Trojans last summer as a sixth-year senior, albeit as a walk-on.

Taking out a loan to help pay for his final semester at USC, Markowitz was buried on the depth chart for much of the season, but he certainly went out on a high note. Starting at center in the team’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl victory over Fresno State, he had a standout performance and was named offensive outperformer of the game.

Now gearing up for USC’s Pro Day coming up in March, Markowitz, who earned an undergraduate degree in urban planning and also threw the shot put and discus on the Trojans' track and field team, he took time out to talk about what he’s been doing for the last few weeks, while also reflecting back on his college football career.

WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the conclusion of the season?

Markowitz: I’m in Hawaii and I’ve been training for Pro Day since the Monday that I got off. I’m working with a local trainer named Chad Ikei. We train in Manoa Valley. In the morning we do field work, working on our 40 and things like that. We actually work on the UH field, and then we go in the gym up the street.

Who are some of the other players that you’re working with?

GM: There’s a defensive back, Rashaad Reynolds, who was the defensive MVP in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl for Oregon State. There’s Lavasier Tuinei, who played for Oregon two years ago. There’s Tavita Woodard, who played defensive end for the University of Hawaii. And then there’s my old high school classmate, Kimo Makaula, who played at Idaho State. It’s a good little group.

In your time as a Trojan, you were dealt setback after setback in terms of injuries, and also with the uncertainty of your future at USC last offseason. What was the key to your perseverance through all of that?

GM: I think the key was probably just mental toughness, and I knew what I wanted in my life. I wanted my education and I wanted to play some football. So, I just kept things simple. I knew what I wanted, so I just did whatever I could to get it.

Your future at USC was put in doubt last offseason, and while you had the opportunity to leave for another program, you were always vocal in your determination to remain a Trojan. Why was that?

GM: It would have been hard if I left. I would have had to get into a grad program somewhere else, get adjusted to new coaches and prove myself to them. With these coaches I knew that even though it might have been a rocky road, they knew that I was a proven commodity. … I just always wanted to stay. I chose to walk on at USC – I had scholarships elsewhere. My family and I did everything possible to keep me there.

How gratifying was it for you to end your career the way you did, starting in the Las Vegas Bowl and earning offensive outperformer of the game honors?

GM: In the moment, you don’t think about it. You’re caught up in the prep and all of the work, but after the game there’s a photo of my dad and I hugging each other and crying. I saw my dad and I was like, ‘Can you believe this, dad? Look at this trophy.’ And then we went and hugged each other, and it was like, ‘This is amazing.’ After all that I went through, I was able to come back, finish strong and I was rewarded.

Your grandfather, Larry, played football at USC, but your father, Barry, played at UCLA. Which side did you grow up rooting for and how did you wind up a Trojan?

GM: I was raised and taught in some Bruin ways, I hate to admit. I went to three UCLA football camps, and the O-line coaches liked me, and then they got a new O-line coach my senior year. He didn’t care so much for me, so then we started to not care so much for them. And then the first time I stepped foot on the USC campus was the summer before my senior year when I went to the Rising Stars Camp. I got to see how Pete Carroll ran things, and how it was all about competition, and I just fell in love with that.

You lived in Western Samoa for a time growing up and you’re a member of one of Samoa’s royal families, and I know that one way that you’ve embraced your Polynesian heritage is through dance. Can you talk a little about that for people who don’t know?

GM: In the Samoan culture, dance and performance is a big part of life, so growing up I played a lot of sports while my sisters did all of the dancing, but as I got older, I wanted to get into some of the dancing, too. In Hawaii a lot of schools have May Day. May Day is Lei Day, a cultural thing we’ve been doing forever in Hawaii, and I was dancing in our May Day show in Hawaii for three years, and I was the Samoan King my senior year – I led the Samoan section. So, when I came to SC, I always heard about the football guys doing the Haka for the Hawaii Club, and it had not happened for a couple of years, so I wanted to bring that back. So, I helped make that happen for two years, and I hope someone continues it. It’s just part of giving back. Being one of the only Polynesians at USC, you’ve got to do something to help promote your culture.

What was your favorite class that you took in your time on campus?

GM: In my last semester, I could choose classes that didn’t really have to go with my major or anything, so I chose a lot of information technology programming classes. In ITP you learn about websites, video making, different programming languages, hacking and how to make apps.

Favorite on or off-campus eating spot?

GM: There’s a taco truck, Los Carnales, on Vernon and Figueroa. It’s a little ways from campus, but it’s pretty good.

If you had one message for USC fans, what would it be?

GM: I just want to thank the fans. When I came back and I was in the crunch of paying the bills for school, doing all the work for school, doing work for football, I had people come up to me and say, ‘Hey Abe, thanks for coming back. Thanks for sticking it out.’ That felt good to have everyday people come up and say that to me. I just want to thank everyone.