The same day one of the most famous Trojans to wear the No. 55 jersey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, USC's current No. 55 stepped back onto the field.
Redshirt senior linebacker Lamar Dawson will never be as beloved a Trojan as Junior Seau -- that would be a difficult task for anyone. With one season remaining, Dawson is unlikely to have the impact that Seau had while he was a Trojan. And Dawson won’t be able to equal Seau’s ridiculous All-American numbers in 1989 when he recorded 19 sacks, 27 tackles for loss and was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
That doesn’t mean Dawson can’t leave the legacy of the No. 55 linebacker with a strong final senior season. People seem to have forgotten that Dawson is a three-year starter. But before he can worry about any lasting memories he’ll leave, Dawson has to get back on the field.
Dawson tore his anterior cruciate ligament before the eighth game of the 2013 season and had to have surgery. While some early limitations might be necessary during fall camps, he should have been back for the 2014 season. Instead, the recovery took longer than expected.
In comparison, Chad Wheeler tore his ACL during the eighth game last season and he was back on the field practicing during USC's fall camp opener Saturday night. But having the ability to explode off one leg and change directions is much different for a linebacker going side to side rather than an offensive lineman. Dawson never could get to full speed action last year. It was decided that he would sit out the entire season and redshirt.
This spring, Dawson looked to be back to full speed. He was one of the spring stars as he showed an ability to chase down plays to either side. Saturday he took to Howard Jones Field for the start of his final season.
“It feels great to be back on the field and get ready for the season. It’s my last camp,” Dawson said. “It just feels great to be with the team and just be with the guys and just making plays and having fun with them.”
Dawson lined up as the MIKE linebacker with the first-team unit. Gone is the heart of the USC linebacking corps, Hayes Pullard. The defense is now looking to Dawson to fill in that spot. He and redshirt senior WILL linebacker Anthony Sarao are now the veterans everyone is turning to.
“It’s a big role for me. I feel like I’m capable of leading the team, making sure everybody is lined up and getting everybody in the right place and making sure everybody knows the call. I’ve got to lead by example, help the younger guys learn the defense and just put it on film.”
If Dawson wants a shot at playing at the next level, he’s got to show through his game film that he is capable of being the highly touted, hard-hitting and rangy Danville (Ky.) linebacker that recruiting services pegged as a four-star player out of Boyle County High.
“I feel real comfortable with the defense,” Dawson said. “It’s the second year of installation, so it’s just working on the little things and making adjustments in order for us to make some plays and to win games.”
And more importantly for Dawson to be able to try to live up to the No. 55 on his chest?
“I feel like I’m 100 percent and that I’ll be able to go sideline to sideline and be full speed.”
Check out what Lamar Dawson had to say to USCfootball.com's Keely Eure during spring practice: