Jeff Kolpack, Published December 26 2012
Hazelton goes from FCS to bowl game with USC
Now it’s all about the Ramblin’ Wreck.
The linebackers coach for USC has been preparing his team for the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech on New Year’s Eve in El Paso, Texas. He took the Trojans position not long after guiding the Bison defense to a Division I Football Championship Subdivision title.
“After it was over, it was, ‘There, wow, we did it,’ ” Hazelton said. “For a lot of us, it was a blur.”
It was a blur because of the FCS tournament setup, something that isn’t present yet at USC’s Bowl Subdivision level. It was quite the run last year for a defensive coach.
The first playoff game was about defending the multiple offense of James Madison University. Then it was on to the aerial assault of Lehigh in the quarterfinals before making a 180-degree turn and studying the triple option of Georgia Southern for the semifinals.
“The playoffs were a grind until the championship game,” Hazelton said. “Week after week, things were changing playing those teams, and good teams too.”
The break between the semifinal game and the title game Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, is where there are FCS-FBS postseason similarities, he said.
At USC, the initial time after the season is more of a spring football mentality. The emphasis is getting the players down on the depth chart more work. The regulars, meanwhile, get a little more rest.
Preparation for Georgia Tech began in earnest last week. There was a little break for Christmas before game week against Tech.
There was also time to catch a couple of Bison games. He saw the South Dakota State playoff game thanks to DirecTV and the first half of the Georgia Southern semifinal before the USC season-ending banquet.
“It was great seeing the team beat the Jackrabbits like that,” Hazelton said. “It was actually a different experience. It was so much fun to just sit down and watch a game. I hadn’t seen an NDSU game that I hadn’t coached in. You know most of the players, so you’re really into it.”
He stays in regular contact with the Bison coaches, mostly through text messages. He and current Bison defensive coordinator Chris Klieman talk about once a week.
“It’s a great working environment, and it’s something where I just get along so well with all of those guys,” Hazelton said.
Hazelton’s connection to USC was through the Tampa 2 defense, the base look of both programs. Having former Bison defensive coordinators Gus Bradley in the NFL and Jimmy Burrow with FBS Ohio University was a big help.
Both of those coaches are directly tied to USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the father of Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin.
“The defensive styles are the same,” Hazelton said.
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found