The USC Trojans are primed for a run to the BCS in 2012 as the No. 1 team in the AP Top-25 poll. One of the biggest question marks facing this Trojan squad is depth, particularly on defense as injuries have depleted the scholarship-short USC depth chart. Lane Kiffin may have found a bit of relief from an unexpected source, however, as the team has reinstated linebacker Simione Vehikite after a stint in jail.
Vehikite was just released after sentence to a one-year term in May following a 2011 car accident. He pleaded no contest to leaving the scene of an accident and driving at or above the legal blood-alcohol content and was ordered to pay restitution to the victim in the accident among other punishments. In addition, Vehikite will serve three years of felony probation, which will stretch through May 2015.
Kiffin supports Vehikite’s return to the team, saying that he’s been a model student-athlete in working his way back to the team. “Simi has done everything fulfilling his obligations to the team to get back…and fulfilled all his legal obligations as well,” his coach told reporters. The redshirt junior took and passed more than a semester’s worth of classes last spring and participated in the school’s student-athlete graduation in May.
In 2011, Vehikite played in all 12 games as a special teamer, making six tackles. The linebacker made his first appearance at USC’s practice on Wednesday and was there again on Thursday. The short notice likely means that Vehikite won’t be available to play any significant role in Saturday’s season opener against Hawaii, but Kiffin says he will be available. “If the time came where he was called on, he’d be ready to go.”
The addition of Vehikite back onto the team as a scholarship athlete seems to put the Trojans at 75 scholarship players, the limit over the next three seasons under NCAA sanctions. That doesn’t bode well for incoming freshman Darreus Rogers, who signed with USC in February but hasn’t been cleared academicall, and likely won’t get to play under scholarship this season even if cleared by the team’s deadline of September 14.
Whether this decision was motivated by the need for a warm body or rewarding a young man working on a bit of redemption, the Trojans now find themselves with an extra body on the depth chart with some experience under his belt.
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