Pili forced into action for USC, to make 1st start at Notre Dame
Forced into action after the Trojans suffered multiple injuries at his position, Pili is the last man standing and will start at nose guard Saturday at Notre Dame.
“I feel comfortable. I feel like I belong with the ones,” Pili told reporters in Los Angeles. “I just feel like there’s a big burden on me. Everybody is depending on me to step up and fill the role of nose guard — the heart of the defense, so it’s much more stressful this week.”
Pili, of Dimond High fame, did not play in the first four games of the season because the plan was for him to redshirt. But then the Trojans lost three defensive linemen in a matter of weeks and needed his services.
He made his debut against Oregon State and played again against Utah; both times coming off the bench.
“He did some good things the last couple of weeks,” USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast said. “He’s kind of been trial under fire so to speak, but he’s made some progress. He’s a big, athletic kid that is pretty good at the point of attack and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep an eye on him and make sure he plays with good gap integrity.”
The 6-foot-4, 340-pounder has size, strength and athleticism to create matchup problems for offensive linemen trying to block him. The only thing he lacks is experience.
Notre Dame ranks fifth in the country in rushing and might target Pili with double teams.
If so, he’s ready.
“I’m pretty confident in myself,” he said. “As a freshman, I’m pretty heavy, so it’s going to be hard to move me.”