The Trojans returned to Howard Jones Field this morning for game week preparations for the Arkansas State Red Wolves — a team that is virtually unknown to the majority of USC fans, but one that should cause a couple restless winks leading up to Saturday’s 8:00 p.m. PT matchup.
The Red Wolves bring a mobile, athletic quarterback in Fredi Knighten and a bevy of trick plays under head coach Blake Anderson. The Trojans will have the talent advantage, but can they remain disciplined in their assignment and techniques against a tricky opponent? We’ll find out on Saturday. Until then, we continue our countdown of the 30 Trojans that are keys to USC success this season.
With just five days remaining until kickoff, we enter the top five — the five USC players we’ve deemed 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?
5. Juju Smith-Schuster - Sophomore
In two days, USC junior receiver Darreus Rogers will turn 22 years old. Sophomore Steven Mitchell Jr. is 21 years old. The junior college duo of Isaac Whitney and De’Quan Hampton are both 21 years old. The quadruplet of talented walk-on upperclassmen receivers George Katrib, David Mellstrom, Robby Kolanz and Christian Tober are all of legal drinking age as well. Yet, the entire group of wideouts looks up to an 18-year old.
JuJu Smith-Schuster doesn’t look like a child with his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame of muscle. But until the UCLA game near the end of last season, he was still a minor. And since that game, Smith-Schuster has overhauled his body, game and name. With a never-ceasing work ethic, Smith-Schuster came back after the offseason with a new frame of mind and a more chiseled physique that has propelled him to the forefront as USC’s top returning weapon for quarterback Cody Kessler.
After catching 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores as a freshman, Smith-Schuster seamlessly transition into the leadership role atop the receivers depth chart following the departures of five of the Trojans’ top seven pass catchers last year, including George Farmer and first round pick Nelson Agholor.
He’s a human biology major and a guy that genuinely wants to know the answer if he asks how you are doing. He’s probably rescued some kittens from trees and helped old ladies across the street (while they marveled at the bicep guiding their way). And he does it all with an easy smile. There’s no front. There’s no posturing. It just comes naturally to the kid that goes by his childhood nickname but already has the mentality of an NFL vet.
It may sometimes be hard for the other receivers to take Smith-Schuster seriously off the field because he really is just a big, fun-loving goofy kid —“a grown child” as Mitchell Jr. calls him. But on the field, Smith-Schuster is the guy they turn to.
“One thing about JuJu is that he wants us to be better than him, so that makes him great,” the elder statesman Rogers said. “I look up to JuJu as a young guy. It’s crazy, but I look up to him. I learn things from him. I ask him questions. He asks me questions, so we’re all just one. We just click man.”
He broke out and made a name for himself in his first outing wearing the cardinal and gold uniform, setting a true freshman school record with 123 yards receiving against Fresno State. Two weeks later, he caught a career-high six passes — a feat he would match in back-to-back games in the middle of the season. At Utah, he had six catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. The next week at Washington State, three of his six catches were in the painted grass of the end zone.
Smith-Schuster was named to Freshman All-American teams and was on the All-Pac-12 second team as an all-purpose/special teams player — he also returned kicks and is one of the Trojans’ top kick and punt coverage players, making five tackles on the year. He won the John McKay Award given to the Trojan with the best competitive spirit, which has only grown during the spring and fall battling against top cornerback Kevon Seymour day in and day out.
And yet people are still clamoring for him to switch from the cardinal to white USC jersey during practices and play a little defense. A five-star recruit out of Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Smith-Schuster was considered an even better safety than receiver. He has said he misses defense and being able to hit people, but as he explained Monday night on Trojans Live, he grew up watching Reggie Bush and other Trojan greats cause the Spirit of Troy Trojan Marching Band to break into song by scoring touchdowns and he wanted to be the cause to strike up the band.
The band better be in good shape because Smith-Schuster is aiming to put them to work this season.
“I told JuJu after practice today, ‘I saw you grow up in front of my eyes today.’ There’s some things that he had been working on and we had been making an emphasis on this spring. We finally saw it happen in a game-type situation and that was big to see. I think he feels better because he can now feel it.
It’s that moment as a player sometimes where it doesn’t feel great, I don’t have it quite yet and then suddenly, ‘I got it.’ He had one of those moments today, so I’m excited for him and looking forward to his growth as we get ready to play next year.” — USC receivers coach Tee Martin (following the spring game)
PERSONAL SEASON GOAL:
“To be the best 9 in the country. I’m gunning for anyone with the No. 9.” — JuJu Smith-Schuster
"One of the most one-of-a-kind players to ever arrive at USC, at least during my 13 years covering the Trojans. The combination of leadership and youth is just something you never see. And the way it's so natural to JuJu. He's not trying to be a leader, he just is. It's who he is, how he does what he does. And yet he's also that fun-loving kid at the same time. Not sure how that works but for JuJu and this USC team, it surely does." -- Dan Weber, USCfootball.com
JuJu Smith-Schuster checks in with Keely Eure during the summer to talk about his and the Trojans' offseason work:
|5||JuJu Smith-Schuster||148 pts||4 (Four times)||15 (Shotgun Spratling)|
|6||Toa Lobendahn||132 pts||5 (Shotgun Spratling)||12 (Austin Geller)|
|7||Kevon Seymour||131 pts||5 (Gerard Martinez)||14 (Twice)|
|8||Antwaun Woods||125 pts||7 (Ryan Abraham)||17 (Dan Weber)|
|9||Justin Davis||124 pts||6 (Austin Geller)||16 (Shotgun Spratling)|
|10||Lamar Dawson||121 pts||2 (Shotgun Spratling)||17 (Keely Eure)|
|11||Steven Mitchell Jr.||120 pts||8 (Shotgun Spratling)||13 (Dan & Ryan)|
|12||Claude Pelon||109 pts||9 (Dan Weber)||17 (Austin Geller)|
|13||Tre Madden||98 pts||6 (Dan Weber)||Not listed (Shotgun Spratling)|
|14||Chad Wheeler||92 pts||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)|