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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Toledo's USC connection: 3 freshmen go west to be Trojans

BY JOHN HARRIS
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
From left, Fred Davis, Sarah Florian and Jazlyn Davis, have adjusted to life 2,200 miles from home. They're attending Southern Cal on scholarships for football, volleyball and basketball, respectively. Florian is starting, Jazlyn Davis is injured and Fred Davis is waiting impatiently. From left, Fred Davis, Sarah Florian and Jazlyn Davis, have adjusted to life 2,200 miles from home. They're attending Southern Cal on scholarships for football, volleyball and basketball, respectively. Florian is starting, Jazlyn Davis is injured and Fred Davis is waiting impatiently.
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LOS ANGELES - The metamorphosis is complete. Fred Davis of Rogers High, Sarah Florian of St. Ursula Academy and Jazlyn Davis of Bowsher High are all grown up and on their own.

Living more than 2,200 miles and three time zones away from the Buckeye State, three of Toledo's most decorated high school student-athletes have made new homes and new friends while pursuing their lifelong dreams as freshmen at the University of Southern California.

Still, it's nice to know they can reach out and reminisce about the good old days back in northwest Ohio.

Once strangers, they have made an easy transition to friendship.

Instinctively, they seek out each other for advice, a laugh, or just to see a familiar face among so many unfamiliar ones.

Florian, a star athlete who dominated the local volleyball scene for what seemed like forever, was courted by colleges from coast to coast.

She selected USC because the Trojans are two-time defending national champions, coach Mick Haley told her she was talented enough to play right away and because, well, who wouldn't want to attend school at a picturesque campus where it's 70 degrees every day and students ride bikes and skateboards to class even in the dead of winter?

Haley held up his end of the bargain. Florian now starts at outside hitter - just as he had promised. That's rare for a freshman at a volleyball powerhouse like USC. But Florian isn't just any freshman.

For Jazlyn Davis, it was love at first sight.

A talented basketball point guard who is quick yet powerful and has a dazzling on-court personality, Davis was so taken by USC that she decided to honor her commitment even after the coaches who had recruited her were fired.

Content with her teammates and with campus life, not even a new coaching staff could sway her decision.

Even after breaking a bone in her left foot on the second day of practice, Davis, who vows to make her college debut sooner rather than later this season, insists she wouldn't change anything regarding her college choice.

For Fred Davis, a homebody his entire life, it's been difficult being so far from friends and family. But lately, Davis' character has been tested as never before - and it has nothing to do with being homesick.

Davis (no relation to Jazlyn) was one of the most highly sought-after local football recruits in years. He could have played for any Division I-A program in the country.

Davis selected the defending national champion Trojans over Ohio State, Miami, Oklahoma and Florida. USC coach Pete Carroll traveled all the way to Toledo to close the deal on Davis.

Davis graduated early from Rogers and enrolled at USC in the spring of 2004. He believed it would provide him an opportunity to play right away.

Instead, nine games into his freshman season, Davis is already looking ahead to next year.

He's seen very little game action and said he doesn't know what he'll do if the same thing happens next year.

He really likes USC. The weather is great. He's made some good friends. But more than anything else, he wants to play football.

Fred Davis is sitting in a Los Angeles eatery following practice. It's a few days after No. 1 USC defeated Oregon State, a game in which Davis didn't play.

For the season, he has four catches for 30 yards. When he plays, it's usually at tight end. He offered to switch from wide receiver to tight end because maybe, just maybe, he might see more action. But so far, no change. So he watches and waits his turn.

At 6-4 and around 235 pounds, Davis is bigger and stronger than a year ago. Faster, too.

He's probably the fastest tight end on the team, not to mention one of the fastest receivers. But this is USC we're talking about. Davis understands, but then again, he doesn't.

"Being far from home, I had to deal with it by myself. I had to be a man and deal with my problems," Davis said. "I can call [home], but it's really better to have somebody there for you. But you're 2,000 miles away. You've got to do it yourself.

"I know I've got to work hard. I know I'm not going to be able to do this, watch people from the sideline. That's not my style."

USC's Carroll understands where Davis is coming from. He envisions Davis becoming another Kellen Winslow Jr. - a fast, powerful tight end who can run like a wide receiver.

"He's a terrific athlete and he's competed really hard. He's working his way through the competition at his spot. I think he's going to be a tremendous player," Carroll said.

"He came to us and asked if he could play tight end. We were playing him at wide receiver. He's capable of doing both, but he's such a strong, big guy he's going to grow into that position and he's going to be a downfield threat.

"He's going to be in the mix really quick order. He's got too much talent not to."

Carroll's words don't bring a smile to Davis' face. In fact, his coach's compliments only serve to frustrate him more.

"I'll play tight end. Receiver, I like that too. Whatever it takes to get out on the field," he said.

If Fred Davis is just around the corner, Sarah Florian has already turned the corner.

She's a starting outside hitter for a team expected to contend for a third straight volleyball championship. It's more than this 18-year-old from Toledo could have imagined.

"I came in here unsure. I didn't know how I was going to fit. I didn't know what I was going to do," Florian said on a weekday morning before going to class. "

"Now it's like I proved myself. I proved to myself I could do it. It's gone beyond my expectations. I'm on the court now, and I'm playing. That's more than I could have ever imagined. I think that's one of my biggest accomplishments so far."

Florian seems honored to be playing volleyball at USC. The Trojans, despite several key losses from last year's national championship squad, are expected to make a legitimate run at a three-peat.

"They've set such a standard here for volleyball, and anything less than that is not acceptable," she said. "I'm learning that mentality."

USC coach Mick Haley has won four national championships (two at Texas). He's won a pair of junior college national titles. He's been named national coach of the year three times. He coached the U.S. women's national team and led the Americans to a fourth-place finish in the 2000 Olympics.

Haley knows volleyball. And he knows he needs Florian to help keep the good times rolling at USC.

"She really is an important cog in our trying to continually win national championships," Haley said. "She's that special because of not only her skills, but the way she approaches playing the sport. Sarah plays the game right."

Haley said he had a good feeling about Florian, one of the most heavily recuited volleyball players in the country, signing with USC when she attended a USC-UCLA football game on her recruiting trip.

"USC scored first, and when we scored the touchdown she jumped out of her seat to yell, "yeah," and she's in the (UCLA) section," Haley said with a twinkle in his eye.

Still, there's no place like home. Florian misses Toledo.

"I have a close relationship with my family," Florian said. "Both my parents are like my backbone. Whenever I have problems, I call them. They keep me strong."

A long way from home, Florian now turns to new friends like Jazlyn Davis and Fred Davis.

"It's weird. Jazlyn and I didn't really know each other before. Now, we live in the same dorm, on the same floor," Florian said. "We have a lot of same classes together. We see each other a lot. I have her number and Fred's number. He'll call me and see how I'm doing."

When Jazlyn Davis heard the loud "pop" at the end of her second day of basketball practice at USC, she didn't know what to think.

"I came down and landed on my foot the wrong way. I knew something was wrong."

She hasn't played basketball competitively since. USC is 1-1 and Davis is still waiting to make college basketball debut.

If she weren't enjoying herself so much, Davis might find the time to be unhappy. But she's having too much fun.

"Most people that have an injury, their goals might change. But my goals haven't changed one bit," Davis said.

She's having the time of her life. In September, she was named one of USC's student-athletes of the month. Every day, she moves closer to being able to return to the basketball court. And, in case anyone forgot, she's in sunny southern California, for goodness sakes.

"Even though it's a long way from home, I felt I needed to branch out and learn how to be repsonsible," Davis said. "What better way than going to school out here?

"It's easier to stay home, where everything's going to be there for you. If anything happens, Mom and Dad can be right there. That's not a bad thing at all. But, you know, Mom and Dad have always been there for me. They're not going to be there when I get older. I have to learn to be respnsible."

Jazlyn Davis and Florian have been there for each other. They talk every day. Sometimes, they get together for serious conversation. Occasionally, Fred joins them.

"I knew Fred before I came out here. I knew Sarah a little bit. It's been helpful, just having two other people from the same town," Jazlyn said. "Sarah and I, we talk about things like, 'We're really far away from home. How are you dealing with it?'●"

Jazlyn is dealing with it just fine.

She said her initial conversation with first-year coach Mark Trakh convinced her USC was the right school for her.

One thing, though. Trakh didnt recruit Davis. Former coach Chris Gobrecht did.

"It was a very tough decision for me between USC and Michigan State," Davis said. "What it came down to was, I just felt more comfortable coming here. Coach Trakh and I had a very good conversation on the phone."

Assistant coach Jody Wynn can't wait for Davis' return to the court.

"Jazlyn has a terrific attitude," Wynn said. "She's a fun-loving kid with a Magic Johnson personality that we can't wait to see on the court. Her maturity level for being a freshman has been wonderful. When you get hurt, it's easy to feel sorry for yourself. Not Jazlyn. It's been a rough preseason for her, but she's going to be a terrific basketball player."



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