Seven weeks of preparation remain before USC football begins the 2015 regular season against Arkansas State at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Seven weeks until Cody Kessler starts slinging touchdowns, Max Tuerk and company begin opening gaping holes, Su’a Cravens gets to creating impact play after impact play and Adoree' Jackson makes his initial jaw-dropping awesomeness.
Until then, we continue to make an attempt to appease the Trojan faithful with our countdown of the “30 Key Trojans” for the 2015 season. This countdown features the 30 USC players most important to the Trojans’ success this season. This list is not the 30 most talented players or the 30 players that will put up the best stats, but instead the guys that could propel USC to a successful season.
Which players’ success is key for the Trojans’ season to be a success?
24. Leon McQuay III - Junior
If there is one word to describe the 2015 season for Florida safety Leon McQuay III at this point, it is “uncertainty.” McQuay III started nine games at safety for the Trojans last year, but got benched after getting burned on multiple occasions against UCLA. After being relegated to a reserve role, McQuay III could have pouted, become a poison or even considered transferring after the season, leaving him his senior year to play somewhere else.
Instead, McQuay III took the demotion in stride and became determined to make an impact. After having a career-high seven tackles against UCLA, he made just one tackle in the Notre Dame game and had just one tackle and one pass breakup in the Holiday Bowl matchup with Nebraska. But his pass breakup and tackle against Nebraska were two of the biggest defensive plays of the season.
On back-to-back plays, McQuay III stopped the Huskers single-handedly. Trailing 45-42, Nebraska was driving with relative ease late in the fourth quarter using a lot of read option. Facing third-and-3, the Huskers went with play action, drawing the single-high safety, Gerald Bowman, to the line of scrimmage and leaving all the other defensive backs matched up in one-on-one situations.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. chose to attack McQuay III in the slot with explosive playmaker De’Mornay Pierson-El, but McQuay III came over the top with a beautiful defensive effort to bat the ball away. On the subsequent play, Nebraska again tried to attack with Pierson-El. This time they put him in motion and tossed him the ball on a jet sweep to the wide side of the field. With Anthony Sarao forcing the play back inside, McQuay III comes racing across from the other side of the formation and takes out Pierson-El’s legs for the fourth down stop and turnover on downs.
It was a glimpse of the Seffner (Fla.) Armwood five-star high school safety that relentlessly attacked. Watch these Leon McQuay III highlights from high school:
Notice that the first four minutes are all McQuay III being uber-aggressive and coming up to make hits? Playing with that confidence and swagger is something that he needs to get back to and being in the same defense for the second year in a row for the first time should definitely help that.
Last season, McQuay III finished with 36 tackles, four pass breakups, six deflections, a fumble forced and one recovered. He also collected a deflected interception in the end zone against Oregon State and returned an interception 22 yards in USC’s shellacking of Washington State.
During the spring, he lost some reps with Chris Hawkins sliding back to safety and Jonathan Lockett rotating in there as well, but McQuay III said after the spring game that he didn’t feel like he had fallen behind or been demoted.
“I don’t feel like it was a step back. Coach said at the beginning of the spring that he was going to be rotating all of us and it’s open for competition. It’s not like I was in the background.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back has lined up at both safety and cornerback this summer. We aren’t certain which position he’ll play in the fall, but it’s definitely advantageous for him to be getting plenty of one-on-one man coverage reps now in case he gets put in another situation similar to the third down situation in the Holiday Bowl.
If Leon McQuay III comes in at No. 24 on our list even with the uncertainty of his position or exact role because we feel if Leon has a strong season, the Trojans will be having success as well.
“We really like what we're seeing from Leon this summer. He's flying around, making plays. Just like in high school. No more of the hesitating that seemed to get him taking the wrong angle or ending up in the wrong place.
"We like it that he's getting to play to his strengths as a big corner or an interchangeable DB all those times USC will need five on the field against Pac-12 spread offenses. We also really like it the way he's talking and leading like the upperclassman he is.." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com
|24||Leon McQuay III||40 pts||17 (Ryan Abraham)||Not listed (Twice)|
|25||Osa Masina||39 pts||15 (Gerard Martinez)||Not listed (Keely Eure)|
|26||Darreus Rogers||36 pts||19 (Shotgun Spratling)||Not listed (Dan Weber)|
|27||Matt Boermeester||35 pts||18 (Dan Weber)||Not listed (Twice)|
|28||Chris Hawkins||34 pts||21 (Twice)||Not listed (Twice)|
|29||Viane Talamaivao||23 pts||22 (Keely Eure)||Not listed (Three times)|
|30||Ykili Ross||21 pts||22 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|