LOS ANGELES - When T.J. McDonald picked off a Matt Barkley pass at USC's practice on Thursday, it was reminder of what the Trojans could have been missing heading into 2012.
It was a pass from one 7 to another. From one senior leader to another. From one Trojan who decided to forgo NFL riches for "Unfinished Business," yes, to another.
Before Barkley stood up at the podium in front of the Christmas tree to all of the pomp and circumstance befitting of the unquestioned face of the Trojans during the two-year bowl ban, it was McDonald - minus the fanfare - announcing in a simple YouTube video on the USC website that he indeed would be returning for his senior year.
"I want to come back and finish things out, be a part of something great," McDonald said in December. "With that said, I'm going to be returning to USC for my senior year."
The Trojans leader on defense was back in the fold, setting the stage for Barkley to make his declaration a day later.
McDonald talked to Barkley as the quarterback pondered his future but says he didn't want to influence his teammate one way or the other. As it turns out, both were on the same page. Considering what they've been through, it wouldn't have been right had they not returned for their senior seasons.
"We got unfinished business meaning that we came here to do something and we haven't done it," McDonald said. "Me and Matt came here and we knew that after our freshman year that we were going to go on probation. We knew that we would come out our senior year and that would be the time for us to be able to finish what we started as far as trying to win a championship and it was unfinished."
This spring, McDonald has been flying around the field as the leader of a youth infused defensive unit that started to blossom for the Trojans at the end of last season. Simply, "The Darkside."
"That's what we call ourselves," said McDonald. "It's a lot fun out here playing with these guys."
Unlike the last two seasons, a bowl game is a possibility for USC in the 2012 season, including a BCS National Championship. By coming back, McDonald has made the statement to his teammates that he wants to be a part of that.
"I'm serious about winning every game that they allow us to play," McDonald said. "We've all been through the downs as far as being on probation. It's over now. I want to be a part of it. Let's go get it."
The pursuit of a championship made his decision to return easier. He's enjoying being on the field again as a Trojan and confident in the decision he made to put the NFL on hold.
"The NFL is your dream," McDonald said. "That's my dream to be there and it's looking me right in the face. To be able to put that on pause for a while, that was pretty difficult but after I got that over with, it was easy."