May 9, 2008

First '08 commit talks leadership

It shouldn't come as a big surprise to anyone who's followed USC recruiting news for the past couple years that D.J. Shoemate's been keeping tabs on the 2008 recruiting class.

He is, after all, the inaugural member.

Shoemate, a four-star athlete from Anaheim's Servite High School, committed to Pete Carroll and USC while he was a sophomore - before he even had an offer.

As the longest-tenured Trojan in the '08 class, Shoemate's gotten to know plenty other Trojan signees.

"I'm just a fun guy I guess," he said. "I really believe in comradery I fully believe that its important building friendship as a unit if we're going to be playing together.

"Being able to build that friendship and then grow, it makes it that much more fun to play."

Maintaining the friendships has been made easier by text messaging and online communities like Myspace and Facebook. Shoemate said the players have plenty to talk about, starting with their shared experiences.

"We're coming from the same situation. We understand each other. We understand how it is to be talked about in similar ways as football players," Shoemate said. "We all understand that 'lifestyle' that comes with the recruiting process. We all know people are going to try and sway us one or the other. You just can't go based on what other people say.

"You have to do what's best for you."

And, he said, if you want to talk with someone, it's not difficult.

"It's easier than people think," Shoemate said. "I can get anyone's phone number."

Shoemate said he's spent the past few months recovering from a shoulder injury. And after missing his entire junior year with a foot injury, he's certainly had his share of nicks.

But despite the injuries, Shoemate's ready to get to campus and compete from day one. It's what he's always done.

"I've never backed down from a challenge. I've always played with good competition and tried to exceed the competition. I try to bring something to the table every time I step on the field. I've always played with the older guys, and that really helped me understand the work ethic it'd take to get me where I am now.

"I bring hard work, dedication and commitment."

Shoemate's also a leader, but he knows as a freshman, he might have to change his tone some.

"As a freshman coming in, my job's not to say anything," he said. "It's to listen and learn as much as I can."

Still, it's hard not to be who you are.

"If you're a leader, it's going to come out. If you're a leader, people follow," Shoemate said. "When you look at leaders, even outside of football, and you ask why do we respect this guy, it's because you have to back up what you say."

Whether it's making plays as a running back or a wide receiver, Shoemate said he feels like he's already accomplished something by getting to this point - on his way to being a Trojan.

"I feel like I've achieved something," he said. "I've fulfilled a dream I had to go to a great university and play football.

"I just love and respect the game football."

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