30 Key Trojans: #10 Lamar Dawson

The 30 Key Trojans countdown continues with a senior that hasn't been able to stay healthy in the past and is trying to get over yet another injury before the season begins.

USC spent the day scrimmaging in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with head coach Steve Sarkisian throwing in some wrenches to try to keep the team on its toes and prepared for the unlikely. The Trojans are only a week away from returning to the Coliseum, donning the game jerseys and playing in front of the Trojan faithful against Arkansas State on Sept. 5.

We continue the “30 Key Trojans” countdown breaking into the top 10. We are counting down 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?

10. Lamar Dawson - Redshirt Senior

This wasn’t supposed to be Lamar Dawson’s year to finally make a big impact. That was going to come last season. Dawson and Hayes Pullard were going to make for a dynamic middle linebacker duo that provided inside run stuffing ability with side-to-side tackling machines.

But that pipe dream went straight down the tube. Dawson’s surgically repaired left knee didn’t respond to treatment as quickly as it should have after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the middle of the 2013 season. New head coach Steve Sarkisian patiently waited on Dawson’s return through Sarkisian’s first spring and fall camps, but the explosiveness just wasn’t there.

Instead of having Dawson return despite not being 100 percent, the coaching staff came to the decision to have Dawson sit the entire year and come back stronger than ever for 2015. Dawson sat by idly watching the Trojans last year and saw fellow seniors J.R. Tavai, Josh Shaw and Pullard graduate from the USC defenses to NFL squads

That’s why Lamar is back wearing the coveted No. 55 in the middle of the defense — back with one final shot to prove his worth for what has become one of the legendary USC uniform numbers. Coming out of high school in Danville (Ky.) Boyle County, Dawson looked like an appropriate heir to the jersey when the four-star prospect selected the Trojans on National Signing Day.

The Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Kentucky had amassed a whopping 502 tackles during his high school career and helped his team to a 43-1 record in his final three seasons. He had 176 tackles as a junior and backed that up with 158 more, including eight sacks, his senior year. Dawson also had four interceptions and forced three fumbles while also rushing for 686 yards and 15 touchdowns and catching 19 passes on offense.

His freshman year started slowly with him spraining an ankle early in the season and missing three games and most of a fourth, but produced a great career opening act as he played in eight games. He even earned the starting middle linebacker role for the final four games of the season, including an upset on the road of No. 4 Oregon. He tallied 25 tackles, including six against UCLA and was named an honorable mention for CollegeFootballNews.com’s Freshman All-American team.

Dawson built on his freshman campaign with a solid sophomore season, even though he missed the opener with an injury. He played in the final 12 games, starting nine and finished fourth on the team with 77 tackles, including double-digit efforts against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State. He also added a pair of interceptions.

The tumultuous 2013 season took its toll on everyone around the program and Dawson was no different. He collected 35 tackles in the first seven games, including six tackles and a sack against hated rival Notre Dame — his best performance of the season. Unfortunately, Dawson succumbed to the knee injury in practice the week following the Notre Dame game and was lost not only for the rest of the season, but all of 2014 as well.

Dawson’s knee is now 100 percent and he has said that it feels great being back in the huddle and back in the middle of the action, calling the plays and lining up the other defenders in Justin Wilcox defense — yet another new addition Dawson has had to learn.

During the spring, Dawson was the defensive revelation as he showed he could provide a different asset than his fellow linebackers as a rangy linebacker with the ability to run from sideline-to-sideline. He also began the fall strong before a freak injury had left him gasping for air, long after practice. When the coaching staff had Dawson examined, it was discovered that the senior had fractured ribs and his status for the season opener against Arkansas State has remained in doubt since.

While he doesn’t have to rack up 150-175 tackles this season like he did in high school, the Trojans need Dawson to be a veteran presence that is a factor in the middle of the defense. He brings experience and a sideline-to-sideline ability that stands out when he is healthy. But staying healthy will be the big key.

SEASON GOALS:

“My accomplishment this year will be to play every single game so I can show my durability and try to stay injury free.” — Lamar Dawson

EXPERTS TAKE:

“The ability to play bigger than his 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and run opponents down in space is a step up for a USC linebacking corps that is rangier and quicker across the board. Having the tall and talented freshmen makes a big difference but having a fifth-year senior who can lead them by example in the quiet Kentuckian might be just as important. Will this be the year he Lamar steps into that No. 55 and stays healthy all the way through? If he does, good things could be on the way for the Trojans' D." — Dan Weber, USCfootball.com

VIDEO INTERVIEW:

Check out Keely Eure's interview with senior linebacker Lamar Dawson during the spring:

RankPlayerTotal PointsHighLow
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10Lamar Dawson121 pts2 (Shotgun Spratling)17 (Keely Eure)
11Steven Mitchell Jr.120 pts8 (Shotgun Spratling)13 (Dan & Ryan)
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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