Nelson heads for next challenge

It was time, USC WR Nelson Agholor decided, to move on to his next challenge.

He's going to be missed. Nelson Agholor brought so much to the USC football program in his three years here, the junior wide receiver from Florida will take a great deal with him as he heads off to the NFL after announcing his intentions Saturday.

Nelson's numbers are daunting. But even more is that special flare he played with and his courage always to want to make the big play when it came his way -- or even when it didn't. Nelson never stepped back from any challenge.

But Nelson's legacy for this Trojans team moving forward is more than anything the way he led in everything he did. He went first in all the drills. He was last to leave the field if the managers needed help wrangling the equipment in the summer. Or relocating it from Cromwell to Howard Jones fields.

Nelson was in the cart with them, grabbing cones, picking up dummies, informing his teammates and getting them going when it was time to work. Nelson was the Eagle Scout who stepped in for the scoutmaster to play both roles.

"These past three years at USC have been a blessing, along with a lot of my life," Nelson said in his official statement released by USC. "I am very grateful to have had the coaches and staff members of this prestigious university in my life. Because of these men and women, I feel prepared to follow my dreams into the NFL. Thank you to the Trojan Family for allowing me to become one of your own."

So for those who thought that of USC's top three candidates to leave along with Leonard Williams and Buck Allen, Nelson was the most likely to stay, it's a disappointment. The general thinking was that he could be convinced that a return would benefit his skill set development with one more year of college.

But what those people didn't realize is just how competitive Nelson is. And how ready he was, in his own mind, for the next challenge. He was not pleased at early Draft evaluations that did not have him at or near the top of the wide receiver group.

"I hope I go out and play really well and that helps my decision even more," he said two days before catching seven passes for 90 yards and one TD in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska in what now is his Trojan swan song.

Listening to Nelson, it was clear he'd made up his mind. Time for the next challenge. He's almost certainly right now thinking about how he can do the developing that USC fans wanted him to do as a Trojan on his own -- or at least with his roomie Cody Kessler.

"All of us at USC thank Nelson for all he has done here," was Steve Sarkisian's USC-issued comment. "He had an outstanding career and will always be a Trojan. We wish him the best and look forward to watching him at the next level."

If that doesn't sound like the absolutely most heartfelt sendoff you've ever heard, it isn't. And we're just reading between the lines here, it's a sign that Sark badly wanted to see Nelson come back -- and for all the right reasons. And we're guessing USC really competed to keep him with the max offer for insurance that schools are allowed to contribute to players deciding to go or stay. Sark said USC was willing to do so.

It's just that Nelson wasn't going to be talked down by arguments that he should play it safe or maybe wasn't quite ready. That kind of talk doesn't go well with Nelson.

Sure, he may not run the fastest 40 in his class, but he'll run well. He won't be the biggest receiver in the draft - but he won't be the smallest either. He may not have the best hands, but they're pretty good and getting better. His routes are as good as anyone's and so is his footwork -- except for that one moment in Salt Lake City. And he'll jump as well as anyone. And interview great.

Although not always a great interview for us. Nelson could be a terrific postpractice talker -- or not talk at all. At times he didn't want to say what was on his mind, clearly, because Nelson was a tough taskmaster - for himself and his teammates. Holding his tongue at times, he decided, was the best way to go at those moments.

But holding back on his dream, well that wasn't something Nelson was going to do.

We couldn't wish more good things for Nelson. And feel pretty good about the players he's leaving behind. That leadership void, just as the wide receiver and returner void, will be filled by returning Trojans who were taught how to do what they'll be doing in great part by Nelson.

From the Agholor record book:

*** Agholor had 104 receptions for 1,313 yards (12.6 average) with 12 TDs in 2014. The 104 catches are the third most in a season by a Trojan.

*** He also had 19 punt returns for 197 yards (10.4 average), including two for TDs, and nine kickoff returns for 147 yards (16.3 average) in 2014.

*** He had 1,660 all-purpose yards with 14 TDs in 2014.

*** His 200-yard receiving games versus Washington State and California in 2014 not only was the first time in a season that a Trojan had a pair of 200-yard games but was the first time in USC history that a receiver had consecutive 200-yard outings.

*** In his career, he had 179 catches for 2,571 yards (14.4 average) with 20 TDs, along with 37 punt returns for 540 yards (14.6 average) with a school-record four TDs and 24 kickoff returns for 443 yards (18.5 average).

*** He had 3,572 all-purpose yards with 24 TDs in his career.

*** He is eighth on USC’s career receptions list (179) and seventh on USC’s career punt returns chart (540 yards).

*** He is the only Trojan to rank among USC’s career Top Eight receivers and Top Seven punt returners.

*** He is tied with Keyshawn Johnson, Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee for the most 200-yard receiving games in a career with two.

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