Which running back will lead USC football in rushing in 2019?

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football’s leading rusher from 2018, Aca’Cedric Ware, is gone. So which Trojan running back will carry the load in the 2019 backfield?

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Even though USC football is moving to the Air Raid offense, Clay Helton and new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell have taken pains to assure fans the rushing attack will not be neglected in 2019.

Regardless of how involved USC’s running backs are this season, the Trojans are still tasked with finding a new top rusher.

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Here’s a look at who might carry the load for the Trojan offense in 2019:

Who led last year?

Aca’Cedric Ware was USC’s leading rusher in 2018 in all but one category. His 125 carries for 825 yards with an average of 6.60 yards per carry were all team-bests.

However, the team lead for touchdowns went to Vavae Malepeai, who scored eight touchdowns on the ground compared to Ware’s six. Stephen Carr and Velus Jones Jr. were the only other Trojans to score rushing touchdowns, with two for the former and one for the latter.

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Obviously, Ware’s graduation means the Trojans will have a new leading rusher in 2019.

Who will factor in this year?

In 2018, Carr was expected to deliver on his very bright beginnings as a freshman running back the season before. However, warning signs of his limitations arrived in the offseason when he underwent back surgery. Though he was able to get back on the field before the start of the campaign, he simply wasn’t the same.

This time around, Carr was able to participate fully in Spring Camp and signs are positive he will be able to once again find the form that rated him a five-star prospect.

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But he’s not the only one who could have a breakout year.

Redshirt junior Vavae Malepeai showed promise himself with several tenacious runs in 2018. He was also the only Trojan back who received carries in all 12 games for USC last year. Since he split first team reps throughout the spring, he’ll get his chance to help fill the void of Ware.

Then there’s Markese Stepp, the redshirt freshman who impressed greatly in Spring Camp with his powerful running. Coaches cautioned that he still has to work on his all-around game as a pass catcher and blocker, but he has serious talent to keep an eye on.


  • Carries: Vavae Malepeai
  • Yards: Stephen Carr
  • Touchdowns: Vavae Malepeai
  • Yards per carry: Stephen Carr

Carr figures to have the starring role in USC’s backfield when it comes to yards, but his injury record has to be taken into account. That’s why Malepeai will ultimately lead the team in carries for the season.

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Malepeai has also shown a nose for goal line which is why he’s the safe bet to top USC’s touchdown charts. Of course, Stepp’s potential as a goal line threat or Carr’s home run ability could even the odds.

It was a slight surprise that Carr’s yards per carry average was only 4.74 in 2018, well below the 5.58 yards he managed in 2017. Limited by injury and the underperforming Trojan offense, he didn’t have the breakaway moments Trojan fans hoped for. An optimistic view of 2019 includes a prediction that Carr will find a way to create more big moments for USC on the ground. For that reason, he’s the one who will lead the Trojans in yards per carry.