SCPlaybook's Five on the Rise

With just two games left in the regular season, SCPlaybook's Kevin Carden takes an in-depth look at which USC players have elevated their stock the most. Look inside for all the details.

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#47 Clay Matthews • 6-3, 240 DE/LB • Redshirt Senior
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In five years at USC, Clay Matthews III has gone from a little known walk-on to a versatile NFL prospect. Matthews has been overshadowed by his fellow linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga, but he continues to make big plays in key situations for the Trojans' defense.

Playing both linebacker and defensive end, Matthews has shown great football instincts and has been one of the Trojans most productive players, recording 45 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two fumble recoveries.

The 6-3, 240-pound DE/LB doesn't receive the media attention that he deserves, but make no mistake, the NFL scouts have taken notice.

What the coaches are saying: "Every year he has gotten better, and this year he has taken it to the next level. He's having a great senior season and he really deserves everything that he is getting right now. A lot of people missed out on him by not offering him a scholarship, but he wanted to come here, and wanted to be a Trojan. Now he's reaping the benefits and he is going to make a career out of this game."
- Nick Holt

Clay Matthews III (Paul Pinner Photo)

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#18 Damian Williams • 6-1, 190 WR • Redshirt Sophomore
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USC wide receiver Damian Williams created quite the buzz among observers at Howard Jones Field in 2007, making several big plays on the service team while sitting out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. In 2008, USC fans have been pleasantly surprised to see the talented wide receiver exceed all expectations.

Williams has been a difference maker from the first time he stepped on the field for the Trojans and teamed up with Patrick Turner and Ronald Johnson to form a talented trio of wide receivers.

Williams currently has a team-high 38 receptions for 553 yards and six touchdowns, but even more impressive than his stats is the work ethic and toughness that he brings to the offense.

What the coaches are saying: "He's a real natural receiver. He just gets it. He reads coverages really well, he is a good route runner, he's tough over the middle, he's got good speed, but I think the thing that separates him is just his natural feel for the position. He's been a lot like Steve Smith was." - Pete Carroll

Damian Williams (Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn)

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#8 Ronald Johnson • 6-1, 185 WR • Sophomore
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Ronald Johnson has emerged as a true big-play threat for the Trojans in 2008 at both wide receiver and as a kick returner.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez loves to utilize the deep passing game and Johnson provides the gunslinger with a receiver that can get behind the defense and go the distance every time he touches the ball.

Just a sophomore, Johnson is third on the team with 23 receptions for 407 yards and six touchdowns.

Johnson, like Damian Williams, is one of the hardest working players on the entire team and has shown the determination and desire to become a truly great player in the years to come.

What the coaches are saying: "This kid is an awesome football player now. He's a fantastic football player. He is playing so fast and so tough. I love the way he is playing. It's clear that Patrick (Turner) and Damian (Williams) and Ronald (Johnson) are the three guys that need to be out there the most. They have just shown it." - Pete Carroll

Ronald Johnson (Getty Images/Robert Laberge)

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#36 Josh Pinkard • 6-2, 210 CB • Redshirt Senior
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After missing back-to-back seasons with major knee injuries, cornerback Josh Pinkard has worked his way back into the rotation in the most talented defensive backfield in college football.

The 6-2, 210-pound cornerback gives the Trojans a big, physical cover man that matches up well with the bigger wide receivers in the Pac-10. Pinkard has great football instincts and is a favorite of head coach Pete Carroll, who raves about his intelligence and veteran leadership.

In 2008, the senior cornerback has recorded 29 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception for USC's vaunted defense.

What the coaches are saying: "I just have always kind of thought of him as one of the best all around athletes on the team because he can do everything well. He can play safety, corner, nickel, all that stuff, and perform at a high level. He's an unusual athlete in that he's so big for a corner and he's really fast and he's really talented athletically. He's a finesse athlete in a big body. He's a good hitter. He's smart. He gets it." – Pete Carroll

Josh Pinkard (Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn)

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#91 Jurrell Casey • 6-1, 280 DT • Freshman
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In his freshman season, Jurrell Casey has worked his way into the rotation at defensive tackle and become one of the Trojans most productive freshmen.

The Long Beach Poly product has drawn comparisons to former USC star Mike Patterson, who was a first round draft pick in the 2005 NFL draft, because of their similar size and quickness off the ball.

At 6-1, 280 pounds, Casey posses great footwork and quickness, and has the potential to be a real run-stopper in the middle of USC's defensive line.

What the coaches are saying: "He looks like he is going to be a really good player. He looks very much like Mike Patterson. I know the guys in strength and conditioning are really fired up about him. He's really getting strong quickly." – Pete Carroll

Jurrell Casey (Getty Images/Jeff Golden)

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions you can reach Kevin Carden at Top Stories