30 Key Trojans: #12 Claude Pelon

Our countdown of the 30 key Trojans for 2015 continues with a defensive lineman primed for a big senior season, if he can return to full strength after a fall camp knee injury.

We are now a week away from the day before. The Trojans have one final closed scrimmage Saturday that USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has said will include some unpredictable scenarios, including “injuries” that force backups to be thrown into the mix with the first-team units.

Through fall camp there have been some injuries that have given younger guys and backups some extra reps, but as long as the Trojans come out of the Saturday scrimmage without any major injuries they will enter the season relatively healthy.

We continue our countdown of the 30 USC players most important to the Trojans’ success this season with one of the players that has been nicked up in training camp, but is expected back sooner rather than later. Remember, this list is not the 30 most talented players or the 30 players that we expect to produce the best stats this season, 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?

12. Claude Pelon - Redshirt Senior

Coming from a junior college means a player has to be able to make an immediate impact. Little known Morgan Breslin was able to do that with the Trojans coming off the edge as a quarterback nightmare. Claude Pelon is trying to do the same. After a solid, but unspectacular first season with the Trojans, Pelon is looking for a big senior campaign.

The Trojans have to replace the production of top five pick Leonard Williams and that means everyone on the defensive line has to make improvements in their game. Sarkisian has repeatedly mentioned that filling in the void left by Williams’ departure will be the job of more than one player. Another senior, Delvon Simmons, looks like he has accepted that challenge and through the early parts of fall camp, Pelon appeared to have heeded the message as well.

Pelon looked poised to be one of the defensive breakout stars, but then without warning, he showed up to practice with ice on his right knee and without pads. The next day Pelon was scheduled for arthroscopic surgery to clean up the knee. Though he’s been back and walking on the leg without any trouble, Pelon’s timetable for return is still unknown.

Could he be back in time for the beginning of the season when the Trojans take on Arkansas State next week? We’re not sure, but as far as we know, Pelon is expected to be back before USC welcomes Stanford to the Coliseum on Sept. 19. That’s when he will really be needed and that’s when we’ll really find out what kind of impact Pelon can have this season.

Like Williams, Pelon is a Florida product, originally from Orlando’s Agape Christian Academy where he had 68 tackles and nine sacks as a senior. He also played basketball and was on the track team in high school. Pelon bounced around after high school, redshirting at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College in 2011 before attending Eastern Arizona Junior College in 2012. He had 17 tackles and two sacks at the Thatcher, Ariz. school. He transferred once again, spending 2013 at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College where he earned JUCO All-American honors after having 52 tackles (9.5 for loss), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

In his first season with USC last year, Pelon collected 19 tackles, including six for losses with 2.5 sacks. He also had three deflections and a big blocked field goal against Arizona — a game the Trojans won by two points.

He started the season at defensive tackle alongside Antwaun Woods and Williams, but lost his spot to Simmons after the season opener. Pelon made two more starts. He took the nose guard spot against Cal when neither Simmons or Woods started after combining for just two tackles against Washington State. And Pelon started in Simmons’ place at defensive tackle in the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska when Simmons slid inside to replace the injured Woods.

If all healthy, Pelon, Simmons and Woods are the likely starters this season, but in order to motivate Pelon, the coaching staff began him with the second-team defensive line unit at the beginning of fall camp. Pelon was unbothered by the move. Instead, he planned to try to dominate the second team offense and force his way back onto the starting line, which he did.

Now he’s just got to get healthy and continue to follow what he said after that first practice: “I’m going to come out hear and eat every day, man. It’s a new year. It’s a new me. I’m just trying to bring the best out of me, so I can provide for this team.”

SOUNDING OFF:

“He's got all the tools. He's big, he's strong, he's fast and has all the intangibles. He's a football guy, so he understands concepts.” — USC defensive line coach Chris Wilson

SEASON GOAL:

“It’s one word actually: consistency. Just being consistent. If I can be consistent all the way around, all around the board, I believe I’ll do well this year and then as a team, in general, we just need to be consistent and come out here and do what we do every day and then we’ll be on top.” — Claude Pelon

EXPERTS TAKE:

“Playing faster instead of reading and reacting as the D-line did a year ago has to play to Claude's strengths this fall. Also in his favor has to be the fact that there's no tomorrow. If he wants to play at the next level next year, he has to show what he can do at this level this year. There's no one who doubts that he can do it. The question Claude must answer is will he do it -- and do it every day." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com

RankPlayerTotal PointsHighLow
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12Claude Pelon109 pts9 (Dan Weber)17 (Austin Geller)
13Tre Madden98 pts6 (Dan Weber)Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)
14Chad Wheeler92 pts6 (Keely Eure)Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)
15Iman Marshall86 pts11 (Ryan Abraham)25 (Shotgun Spratling)
16Delvon Simmons84 pts1 (Shotgun Spratling)28 (Gerard Martinez)
17Jabari Ruffin79 pts12 (Dan Weber)25 (Ryan Abraham)
18Anthony Sarao77 pts13 (Keely Eure)26 (Austin Geller)
19Zach Banner72 pts12 (Shotgun Sprating)Not listed (Austin Geller)
20John Plattenburg68 pts15 (Keely Eure)29 (Austin Geller)
21Damien Mama49 pts18 (Gerard Martinez)27 (DanWeber)
22Connor Spears44 pts13 (Austin Geller)Not listed (Twice)
23Max Browne43 pts19 (Twice)Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)
24Leon McQuay III40 pts17 (Ryan Abraham)Not listed (Twice)
25Osa Masina39 pts15 (Gerard Martinez)Not listed (Keely Eure)
26Darreus Rogers36 pts19 (Shotgun Spratling)Not listed (Dan Weber)
27Matt Boermeester35 pts18 (Dan Weber)Not listed (Twice)
28Chris Hawkins34 pts21 (Twice)Not listed (Twice)
29Viane Talamaivao23 pts22 (Keely Eure)Not listed (Three times)
30Ykili Ross21 pts22 (Austin Geller)Not listed (Twice)

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