14. R. Jay Soward (1996-1999)
R. Jay Soward isn’t the greatest USC wide receiver ever. He didn’t have the best stats and didn’t put together a career as routinely productive as his peers in the 1990s, much less the stars of the Carroll Era.
But in a listing of the Trojans’ best, emphasizing peaks over totals, Soward is rightfully among the elite receivers to suit up for the cardinal and gold. And therein lies the tragedy of his career.
He could do everything for USC. He was a slasher. A dasher. A reverse specialist. A make-you-miss receiver who excelled with the ball in his hands while being almost as lethal a return man as Anthony Davis or Reggie Bush.
His first reception went for a school-best 97-yard touchdown. His record-setting six-catch, 260-yard performance against UCLA as a freshman in 1996 was something of legend. As the LA Times’ Earl Gustkey put it: “At USC, R. Jay Soward is the preferred new spelling for E-X-P-L-O-S-I-V-E.”
An All-American career looked to be in the future, right? Not exactly. Soward had all the ability in the world, but struggled to put it all together for consistent stretches, falling prey to suspensions, injuries and ultimately himself.
Yes, he still found a way to leave USC as temporarily the fourth-most prolific pass-catcher and third-best receiving yard gainer in school history. But he never led the team in receiving. Had Soward earned more plaques than his 1999 Playboy Preseason All-American nod, he’d be much higher on the list.