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January 20, 2008

Eye on draft day: Matt Spanos and his triceps

As the Trojans' senior class of 2007 prepares for the NFL Draft, USCFootball.com will keep track of select players, as they get ready for April 26-27. For our second installment: center Matt Spanos.

Generally, about 15 players are shoe-ins for the first round of the NFL Draft. Behind them, roughly 50 compete to fill out the top tier. Then, there are others who simply strive to be picked on the first day.

Matt Spanos doesn't fit into any of those categories.

"I'm working toward getting drafted, period," the USC center said. "I have no idea where people have listed me. I haven't heard of anything. As far as my knowledge is serving me, I'm nowhere really on the map."

Spanos, it's true, does not appear to be on anyone's short list. But more than 220 players will be picked on April 26-27.

To be among them, Spanos has to prove that he is healthy.

He tore his right triceps in a freak practice mishap, a few days before USC's season opener against Idaho. It was supposed to be his first career start. Surgery, doctors said, was inevitable. Some encouraged him to get it out of the way. The fifth-year senior opted to try a comeback.

Sept. 29 at Washington, freshman center Kristofer O'Dowd sprained his right knee. Spanos - brought along as an insurance policy - entered. With a triceps torn clean off the bone in his upper arm, he played more than a half in Seattle, then stared USC's final nine games.

Now, when he meets with scouts and prospective agents, they want to know what's going on in his right arm. He tells them to watch the game tape.

"To them, sometimes that's just indicating I'm a smart ass," Spanos said. "But usually they take it into consideration.

"I basically tell them, 'Look at what we did against Illinois in the Rose Bowl. We ran for 344 (yards). It's just not that easy if you try to do that with a bad triceps, or even try to play period."

They will ask him for a percentage, or to rank his arm's condition on a scale of one to 10. He says nine, which comes as a surprise. Spanos has decided to forego surgery.

"I'm going to go to in next week and get an MRI and a couple of more evaluations, just to be sure that the decision I'm making is not a stupid one," he said.

If he can get away with it, it would help him lose the "damaged goods" tag. Accordingly, he is focused on strength, in preparing for the NFL combine. Spanos views the combine's bench test - in which prospects bench press a 225-pound weight as many times as they can - as the opportunity to show that his injury has not diminished his capabilities.

"It's not a very hard drill to do, but it does display strength, and, more importantly, how well-conditioned your strength is - can you last," Spanos said. "A lot of guys put up a lot of reps, and in the end it seems like, 'Oh, this guy's done, he can't do any more.' And then he pumps out five more reps.

"It shows a lot about his character, that he's not willing to give up right away."

Spanos played in the Hula Bowl - the No. 3 senior all-star game, after the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Game - on Jan. 12. Although the west squad lost 38-7, Spanos said it was helpful for scouts to see him in practice, making calls and directing an offensive line.

He has returned to USC and begun working out on his own. Academically ineligible in 2006, Spanos is only a Spanish class away from graduating. He goes to school four days a week and builds his body in the team's weight room.

Many prospects have left school for combine-training programs. Spanos, however, is determined to graduate. And he said that does not put him at a disadvantage.

"I feel like the strength staff at SC is easily the best in the nation," he said. "This is by far one of the best places to work out, hands down, because the way they structure this entire program is to benefit you overall, and work on your weaknesses."

His work: "Trying to show people that my arm is not my handicap."

Jonathan Kay can be reached at Jon@USCFootball.com


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