Just over a week from now the Trojans take to the grass of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 5 to take on Arkansas State. There will be no more fall camp. No more two-a-days. Just live action in front of the Trojan faithful eager to see what this year’s team has to offer.
During fall camp, we took a break from the “30 Key Trojans” countdown, but with there being only two practices open to the media remaining before the first game, we pick back up just inside the top 15. As a reminder, our countdown features the 30 USC players our panel has voted as the 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?
14. Chad Wheeler - Redshirt Junior
Offensive linemen can often be overlooked. What happens in the trenches isn’t what viewers necessarily focus on each play. But there’s no way we can overlook the Trojans offensive line that returns seven starters from last season.
The fourth offensive lineman on our list is Chad Wheeler, whose knee injury against Utah open up an opportunity for Khaliel Rodgers and Damien Mama at guard after Toa Lobendahn was moved to tackle. The 6-foot-7, 290-pound Wheeler has 22 career starts and has been one of the most dependable lineman for the Trojans the last three years.
As a 230-pound three-star prospect coming out of Santa Monica (Calif.), Wheeler enrolled early, but redshirted his first year on campus, allowing him time to put on some needed weight. Wheeler wouldn’t see much more time on the bench though. Originally behind Max Tuerk at left tackle, he was good enough that the coaches chose to move Tuerk to a guard spot in 2013 to open up the position for Wheeler.
Wheeler started all 14 games at left tackle in 2013, earning Freshman All-American honorable mention from at least one publication. He was also named USC’s Co-Lifter of the Year for his weight room work and helped the Trojans upset No. 5 Stanford, 20-17, when he blocked a field goal in the second half.
In 2014, Wheeler was having a strong campaign at left tackle until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the third play of the Utah game. However, being the tough guy that he is, Wheeler played the next seven or eight plays before finally having to be taken out of the game. His redshirt sophomore season was over, but Wheeler was right back to work.
He had surgery as soon as possible and has gone through the grueling rehab process to try to be ready for the 2015 season opener and on Wednesday this week, he was cleared for full contact. That also creates some questions for offensive line coach Bob Connelly. What type of rotation does he want to use? Does Wheeler immediately regain his spot at left tackle? If so, what position does Toa Lobendahn transition to?
Currently, Lobendahn is slotted at the left tackle position, but if Wheeler is ready to go, Wheeler will likely take back the tackle spot, leaving Lobendahn, Mama and Viane Talamaivao battling for the two starting guard spots. Of course, Connelly has been trying to motivate mammoth right tackle Zach Banner by taking away some first-team snaps recently and Lobendahn spent some time at the right tackle spot on Wednesday.
Regardless of who else is on the line, expect Wheeler to be slotted at left tackle when the Trojans season really gets underway on Sept. 19 against Stanford.
“He’s a monster. Like I said, I think they put a robotic chip in his leg. He’s coming back and it’s unbelievable. Then again, I told you guys that he’s the guy that I trust is going to come back and be stronger. What happened a few months later? He is back going into camp. Some of the guys on the team have been out for years. There have been years added on, ‘Oh is his knee coming back?’ This type of stuff. Chad is not that type of guy.” — offensive tackle Zach Banner
“Win the Pac-12. Be the best tackle in the country.” — Chad Wheeler
“He's a man of few words and deep thoughts who could have gone to the Ivy League if he wanted to. But the words he spoke this week about the state of this USC program in the post-Salute-to-Troy era for head coach Steve Sarkisian. 'It's all about winning.' show he gets it.
This is a tough game played at this level and after coming back at the nine-month mark from his surgery, Chad shows he's tough enough and smart enough to make it happen." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com
Check out these throwback high school highlights of a thinner Chad Wheeler that is seen mostly on defense:
|14||Chad Wheeler||92||6 (Keely Eure)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|15||Iman Marshall||86 pts||11 (Ryan Abraham)||25 (Shotgun Spratling)|
|16||Delvon Simmons||84 pts||1 (Shotgun Spratling)||28 (Gerard Martinez)|
|17||Jabari Ruffin||79 pts||12 (Dan Weber)||25 (Ryan Abraham)|
|18||Anthony Sarao||77 pts||13 (Keely Eure)||26 (Austin Geller)|
|19||Zach Banner||72 pts||12 (Shotgun Sprating)||Not listed (Austin Geller)|
|20||John Plattenburg||68 pts||15 (Keely Eure)||29 (Austin Geller)|
|21||Damien Mama||49 pts||18 (Gerard Martinez)||27 (DanWeber)|
|22||Connor Spears||44 pts||13 (Austin Geller)||Not listed (Twice)|
|23||Max Browne||43 pts||19 (Twice)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|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)|