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USC RB Ware pushing for expanded role as senior

(AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

By DAN GREENSPAN

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California running back Aca'Cedric Ware is ready to make a name for himself, even if it comes as part of a committee.

Ware spent his first three seasons with the Trojans as the "other" running back from Texas, as fellow Lone Star State product Ronald Jones II established himself as one of the most productive rushers in school history.

With Jones preparing for his rookie season in the NFL and USC breaking in a new quarterback, the senior Ware is determined to make his mark.

"Even if everybody in the stadium know we're running, we're going to run the ball," Ware said. "That's going to be the identity of this team. We're going to embrace it."

While the tendency has been to point to sophomore Stephen Carr as the next great USC tailback, after he rushed for 119 yards on 11 carries in an early September win over Stanford last season, both head coach Clay Helton and new running backs coach Tim Drevno see Ware as just as likely to break out.

Ware arrived for training camp at 215 pounds, which Helton said is "not only the heaviest he's been, but also the most explosive and in shape he has been." That extra size has allowed Ware to break through tackles like never before, reminiscent of the same added dimension that helped Jones rush for 1,550 yards last season, eighth most in a season in school history.

Helton didn't think it was a coincidence that it took time for Jones and Ware to become more powerful runners. Both played as freshmen in 2015, trading the initial stages of a college development program for the chance to get on the field. After four years in the weight room and nutrition program, Ware now has the physical tools to punish defenders.

"That's something that I see a little bit different in him right now, that he is able to fight off those safeties that are trying to go for his legs," Helton said. "He's making them pay right now, which is nice to see."

Explosive runs by Ware have become a regular practice staple as USC works toward its Sept. 1 season opener against UNLV. Ware was never lacking in top-end speed but seemed a step slow compared with the electric Jones. It didn't take long for Drevno, who returned to USC after spending the past three seasons as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Michigan, to realize Ware had plenty of burst.

"People don't think Ced Ware has got a next gear. He does. The one thing I really like, Ced Ware, he hits his fourth step, man, he's hitting it and it's downhill," said Drevno, who was the Trojans' offensive line coach in 2014. "He's deceptive."

On-field performance is just one reason why Drevno has taken to Ware so quickly. Drevno also praised how Ware leads the running backs in workouts and meetings, where his attention to detail has increased.

With Ware, Carr and sophomore Vavae Malepeai, USC has the makings of a strong group that can replace Jones' individual contributions together. That is exactly what Helton wants, with an eye toward a possible 15-game season if USC reaches the Pac-12 championship, College Football Playoff semifinal and title game.

"We're trying to get to 15, and because of that, you have to be able to take care of those runners," Helton said. "It's one of those things there will be times that you look up and a Ronald Jones does carry the ball 20-30 times last year. It will be the same thing this time. When a guy is hot, you keep feeding him and feeding him and feeding him, but we're also going to know that with this depth that we're going to use a lot of folks to stay fresh and stay explosive."

Ware said: "I did the same thing in high school. My junior year was three of us. My senior year, it was two of us, so it's nothing different."

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Updated August 19, 2018

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