Bobby Haskins bringing an essential voice to the USC locker room

By the time the sun set on his first day in Southern California, Bobby Haskins was already pretty convinced he’d found his future home. After a chaotic few weeks in the transfer portal, the coveted Virginia tackle clicked immediately with USC’s coaches and took to L.A. right away. It didn’t even matter USC hadn’t yet hired an offensive line coach. Haskins sensed it was the right fit.

Then came the pitch-perfect closing note to his USC official visit … courtesy of Australian rock band Men at Work.

“I come from a land down under!” Haskins belted that night in late December from a private karaoke room in Koreatown. Alongside him was former USC punter — and actual Aussie — Ben Griffiths, who joined him on the mic for a duet few in the room would forget.

When it came to karaoke, there was no holding back with Bobby Haskins. It simply wasn’t in his nature. It didn’t matter that the towering tackle had just met the rest of USC’s offensive line. With the mic in his hand — and a cacophony of flutes blaring over a pure ‘80s melody — any walls that might’ve been up between them came tumbling down.

Adding a new voice to an already established offensive line is typically a delicate process, one that takes time as personalities and playing styles jell. But Brett Neilon knew before Haskins even hit the refrain of “Down Under” that he would fit right in.

“We need to get this guy here,” USC’s center decided that night, before trying his hand at some Taylor Swift songs.

“We were singing our hearts out,” Neilon said.

For Haskins — or any self-respecting karaoke enthusiast, for that matter — there was no other way to sing karaoke.

“My whole family loves to sing,” Haskins said. “My buddies from high school, their brothers and sisters and families love to sing. Back home, we’ll get music videos going on the TV and my family will break out the brooms, and we’ll get the air guitar going and all that good stuff.”

“He’s definitely not afraid to put himself out there,” added Keith Hellstern, Haskins’ high school coach at Fairfield Prep (Conn.).

He’s brought that same energy to USC’s offensive line room since arriving in January, even as he remained sidelined through the spring.

After playing through an ankle injury during his final season at Virginia, Haskins underwent surgery soon after. That meant sitting out his first several months at USC, learning the new offense from afar.

“It was hard to just watch,” Haskins said. “Standing on the sideline, you get that little itch.”

Offensive tackle Bobby Haskins defends Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard.

Offensive tackle Bobby Haskins, right, defends Florida linebacker Jonathan Greenard during the second half of the Orange Bowl between Florida and Virginia on Dec. 30, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

“All you can ever ask for in life is an opportunity to compete. That’s what I have. I’m really excited about it.”

— Bobby Haskins, on joining USC

His absence through spring meant starting preseason camp on the second-team offensive line, while Courtland Ford took the lion’s share of reps as the starting left tackle.

Most transfer offensive tackles might assume their starting spot was assured, considering the scarcity of experienced linemen available in the portal. But USC offensive coordinator Josh Henson said last week that neither of the Trojans’ open offensive tackle spots were guaranteed. And Haskins appears to have no problem moving forward without such a guarantee.

“All you can ever ask for in life is an opportunity to compete,” Haskins said. “That’s what I have. I’m really excited about it. We’ve got a great group on the offensive line. I’m here to help the team win any way that I can.”

His 20 starts at left tackle are certainly a good start. Ford and fellow tackle Jonah Monheim have 16 starts between them.

“He puts himself in position to win a lot,” Henson said of Haskins. “[That’s] just experience. [He’s] a seasoned operator. He doesn’t make things hard on himself.”

Haskins also added 10 pounds to his frame during the spring as part of a plan he devised with USC strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie to add upper body strength. He’s now checking in around 305, which he says has already helped him improve as a run blocker.

Whether that’ll be enough for him to win the job at left tackle will be decided during the next two weeks. But among his fellow linemen, Haskins’ voice has already become an essential part of USC’s locker room.

“When you’re going somewhere for your last year, you’ve got to trust it,” Haskins said. That’s something Coach [Lincoln Riley] talked about from the very first meeting we had as a team. It’s the speed of trust. We don’t have time to second-guess or put one toe in the water.

“We have to dive in headfirst. That’s what I did.”

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