Quarterback Sam Darnold and linebacker Cameron Smith have made lesser known jerseys their own at USC as Trojan freshmen take on iconic numbers.
The addition of 19 new freshmen filled up USC Football’s 2017 roster this week, including a number of new faces occupying iconic numbers.
And at least one veteran Trojan took notice.
“It’s interesting, a lot of these younger kids are getting the single digit numbers but that’s how it is. That’s how recruiting is nowadays,” said quarterback Sam Darnold at Pac-12 Media Days.
A total of six true freshmen were allowed to nab single digit numbers in 2017 — receiver Joseph Lewis in No. 1, safety Bubba Bolden in No. 2, safety Isaiah Pola-Mao in No. 6, running back Stephen Carr in No. 7 and receiver Randal Grimes along with cornerback Greg Johnson in No. 9.
There’s a cost to occupying such coveted numbers. Each will now have to live up to the legacy of the likes of Mike Williams, Adoree’ Jackson, Tim McDonald, Marqise Lee, JuJu Smith-Schuster and others.
That’s something Darnold never had to contend with, in part because he never cared what jersey he’d wear.
Darnold doesn’t remember being asked what number he wanted when he was a freshman. But he didn’t make an issue of it.
“I was just going to wear whatever they gave me and play,” Darnold said.
As it turns out, Darnold ended up in, of all things, a punter’s number.
His No. 14 jersey has been worn by three Trojan All-Americans, including safety Artimus Parker, an interception machine on USC’s 1972 national championship team, and guard Aaron Rosenberg, a College Football Hall of Famer from the 1930s.
In more recent memory, the jersey belonged to Tom Malone, the greatest USC punter of all time.
While Darnold didn’t care about his number to start with, linebacker Cameron Smith has come to appreciate his jersey at USC, even though there was talk of a change to the iconic No. 55 last year.
“I’m going to wear 35 because that’s my number. That’s what I’ve made myself in and it’s kind of too late to start wearing a new number,” said Smith.
Darnold contemplated changing his number before it was too late last year, before he won the starting job and became forever associated with No. 14 — a number jokingly mocked by teammates.
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The quarterback could have grabbed No. 18, his high school number. It was open on the offensive side of the ball opposite linebacker Quinton Powell. Alternatively, he could have gone with No. 15, the jersey his grandfather wore while playing basketball for USC. He would have had to trade receiver Isaac Whitney for it though.
Instead, Darnold thought better of it.
“A lot of people do care about their number. Cam [Smith] cared about it a lot when he came in. I know he wanted 55. Then he made 35 his thing,” Darnold said. “That’s been my theory behind jersey numbers. Whatever they give you, just make it yours.”
After 10 games as a starter, a nine-game winning streak and a record-setting performance in an epic Rose Bowl victory, Darnold has certainly made the No. 14 his own.
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Now it’s up to each of USC’s freshmen, single-digits or otherwise, to make their numbers their own as well.