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VITAL VIDAL

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hazelton.jpg

 (photo courtesy of Scott's nifty Blackberry)


      The 6-2, 210 pound transfer from USC has one year to play as a Bearcat, and it appears he's going to make the most of it. Vidal Hazelton, who sat out last season and challenged UC's defense in practice is ready to assume the position of Mardy Gilyard.

      That's not to say that he's the #1 receiver now, as Armon Binns and D.J. Woods are weapons that are hard to ignore, but Hazelton is clearly the most "media savvy" of the group.

      Apparently,  the exploits of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens with the NFL team in town have influenced Hazelton. Not only does he talk on the field, but he's highly involved on Twitter and does the occasional broadcast on Ustream.

      Like Gilyard before him, Hazelton is an approachable, fun-loving guy. Why else would someone purposely wear a Mohawk? Mohawks are not for shy men. They are statements. Jonny Gomes with the Reds did it. Ochocinco with the Bengals did it. It's usually the hairstyle of someone with an attitude. If the attitude is channeled in the right direction, good things can happen.

      "I just wanted to do something fun for camp to get the guys going a little bit," said Hazelton. "When they're tired and down, they can see how stupid I look. It's something fun."

      Actually, when the Bearcats are tired and down, they usually jump into the two plastic cold pools that sit adjacent to the steamy practice fields at Camp Higher Ground. My guess is hairstyles don't matter much after a grueling practice in heat indexes well over 100. But, Hazelton's intentions are good. He's obviously one of the more popular players.

      So, is he the Chad (Ochocinco) or T.O. of the Bearcats?

      "I wouldn't say that," said Hazelton. "We've got a real good receiving corps, we're just working hard and we know we've got a lot of talent. (But) like Coach said in the meetings, you can't win games with talent. We've just got to correct our minor stuff, get our details right and stuff like that and be sound."

      Even the guys defending Hazelton appear to like him, although you can't necessarily tell that from the onfield chatter. At a recent practice, Hazelton and his nemesis Reuben Johnson had some pretty good verbal sparring going. However, despite tight coverage from Johnson, it was Hazelton who was able to use his pro-style receiver body to fend off Johnson and make a key catch.

      Hazelton then used his wisdom and flipped the ball at Johnson, not saying anything. Johnson however, had to face the wrath of secondary coach Kerry Coombs.

      "You're worrying about what you're going to say--not what you're going to do!" chided UC's version of the Energizer Bunny.

      Hazelton has that affect on his defenders.

      Another play of note recently led to another Coombs gem to a defensive back who had been beaten by Hazelton: "They're ain't no JV in college football!"

      Then, there was an incident where Hazelton made a catch and then rolled into Wes Richardson like a fullback nosediving at the goal-line. The next day, it was Richardson who got a lick in on Hazelton as the competition has beefed up on both sides of the ball thanks to Hazelton's skills.

      "Me and Reuben, we go at it," said Hazelton of his daily confrontations with Johnson. "Sometimes I feel like he's holding me and he's lights out. Me and him just battle, we make each other better. He's a physical corner. He gives me a lot of work."

      Even though he's yet to play a game as a Bearcat, Hazelton brings veteran leadership after spending a year practicing and not playing. Then, you have his 32 games as a USC Trojan which come into play. When you've had a 50-catch season, you have knowledge to share.

      In Hazelton's case, he also has knowledge to share about not playing. UC recently found out that Tennessee transfer Kenbrell Thompkins will not play this season and will have to sit out the year (at least in terms of games). Hazelton has been counseling the teammate that he'll never officially get to play with.

      "I'm kind of disappointed about that," said Hazelton. "KT's got a lot of potential. The NCAA granted him two more years, so I think that's real good for him. Just like I sat out--scout team did a lot for me and it's going to do a lot for him. Next year, he's going to come out and he's going to be in a fight."
      Fantasizing of throwing to Hazelton, Binns, Woods AND Thompkins would seemingly be a quarterback's dream.

      "That would have been dynamic!" said Hazelton. "Like I said though, it's God's will and everything happens for a reason. I think he'll be OK."

      Oh well, if you're Zach Collaros, there's only one football you can put into play anyway.

      "We've got real talented receivers (that start)," said Hazelton. "We've got Jamar (Howard) that's behind us and we just need them to keep pushing us to come out and work hard everyday."

      Speaking of work, the workload at UC is something Hazelton's had to get used to. Sure, Southern Cal had a potent offense, but their way of going about it (just like a lot of California) was a little more "laid back" than what's going on here.

      "Not to say anything bad about USC, but the tempo here in the no-huddle offense is just extremely rapid," said Hazelton. "You've got to be in a lot better shape to be in this offense. You know, it's fun though, it's a receiver offense."

      It's so much fun that Hazelton was trying to convince some of his old Trojan teammates to join him here as NCAA rules would allow. At one time, Brandon Carswell was supposed to be a Bearcat, but then he changed his mind once Lane Kiffin hired an offensive coordinator away from the NFL Tennessee Titans (note to Kiffin: pray that you're never pulled over in the state of Tennessee).

      What happened there?

      "It was some guys that we're supposed to come," said Hazelton. "I don't know if any of them are still coming, I don't think so. We (UC) kind of lost some of them to other schools. Everything happens for a reason, I just was trying to help out some friends back at the old school."

      "Everything happens for a reason" is a popular Vidal Hazelton saying. Should the Trojan transfer have the impact that many expect, the doors possibly open up for others looking to improve their own collegiate situations.

      In the meantime, NFL scouts are routinely at UC's practices these days. While they may be looking at several Bearcats, the "smart money" says their eyes are on "lucky #7".

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