Cameron Smith: USC’s No. 55 jersey should be earned, not given

Michael Castillo/Reign of Troy
Michael Castillo/Reign of Troy /

The No. 55 jersey is loaded with USC football history, and Trojan middle linebacker Cameron Smith had a lot to say about it at Pac-12 Media Days.

Despite having six numbers officially retired and another practically retired —all of which for Heisman Trophy winners— the most iconic number in USC football lore could be the No. 55, worn by a litany of historic Trojan linebackers.

No one had had the number since Lamar Dawson’s graduation in 2015, leading to waves of speculation around junior linebacker Cameron Smith.

He was listed at No. 55 briefly on USC’s website prior his sophomore season, before head coach Clay Helton laid the idea to rest as a way of honoring the late Junior Seau for at least one year.

But could now be the time?

“It’s not up to me,” Smith said Thursday at Pac-12 Media Days. “I don’t think it’s something that you ask for. It’s something that’s earned by you and presented to you.”

With two solid seasons and after leading the team in tackles, you could make a case Smith has not only earned it, but could be the best Trojan middle linebacker since Bednarik Award winner Rey Maualuga.

Nonetheless, Smith’s admiration for the number is out of respect, as opposed to simple motivation. Because even without No. 55, he is already a part of a strong lineage.

The No. 35 has an underrated history, highlighted by All-American Scott Ross and All-Conference first-teamer Riki Gray (Ellison).

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“Great players have worn that number, and it’s an honor to throw it on everyday,” Smith said. “It’s such a blessing to wear 35 and to be honored and thought of to wear that number is special to me.”

If not Smith, will anyone wear the No. 55 in the foreseeable future?

It all creates a discussion around current five-star linebacker commit Palaie Gaoteote, of the 2018 recruiting class. He very well could be that McGinest, as a generational talent and the nation’s No. 1 linebacker.

But given the unfulfilled potential of Lamar Dawson, apprehension over issuing the No. 55 prematurely is warranted. And theoretically, using the jersey as a carrot could get the most out of players.

However, every player since Junior Seau has worn the number during their first season. That includes junior college transfers Israel Ifeanyi and Markus Steele during the heyday of Club 55 in the 1990s.

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Neither earned All-Conference honors, and yet were each followed by All-Americans in the number’s history—Chris Claiborne and Keith Rivers.

Could that mean Dawson’s struggles make USC due for a superstar No. 55? We’ll have to wait and see.