82 days to USC football: Paul Cleary was too small, Jude Wolfe is just big enough

RoT Countdown / Photo by CBS via Getty Images (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by CBS via Getty Images (Reign of Troy) /

Paul Cleary was considered too small to play football. Jude Wolfe is already big enough to contribute for USC football. Both belong to the history of the No. 82 jersey.

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The days until USC football returns in 2019 now number 82.

The Trojans will kickoff the news season on August 31 against Fresno State.

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Until then, we at Reign of Troy are examining the numbers on USC’s roster. Today, the focus is on No. 82:

Who wore it best?

Let’s talk about Paul Cleary.

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The Trojan No. 82 was an All-American in 1947 and made his way into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

That’s quite the transformation for an athlete who, at 138 pounds as a senior in high school, was deemed too small to play for his varsity football team.

Cleary was the poster child for late bloomers.

After high school, during which he never played a varsity snap, he landed at Santa Ana Junior College and took a redshirt. Then came a bit of a growth spurt. He bulked up to 170 pounds and took over a starting job in 1941. By 1942, he was the key player on the No. 1 junior college team in the country.

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Of course, this all happened with World War II providing a backdrop. And as happened for most young men of the era, Cleary was called up by the military. He spent three years in the Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant. Assigned to a unit which was destined to take part in the invasion of Japan, he was days away from deployment when the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war.

He joined the Trojans in 1946, along with just about every other able-bodied veteran of the era, and was promptly buried on the depth chart.

Cleary’s talent wouldn’t be denied though, especially not with the years building his frame up to 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. “He’s a big boy now,” The San Francisco Examiner quipped in reference to his high school limitations.

He ended up winning a starting job for USC, living by this creed: “Keep your eyes open, head up and bury your face in his belly button.”

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The mantra worked to make him an elite blocker and tackler. His size helped him thrive as a pass catcher, while he was also effective as a runner on the outside.

In 1947, USC opened the season with 7-1 record and Cleary caught the eye of opposing coaches and the media with strong performances in marquee games against Ohio State and Cal. A few of his highlights were featured in movie theater reels nationwide. An All-American campaign ensued.

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Cleary’s assent to consensus All-American status made him the perfect model for persistence and belief in yourself. He did some public speaking on the topic when asked after his football career ended.

“I did it because I wanted to tell those boys that there is room for the gangly kid, that he can succeed,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1973.

Who wears it now?

Tight ends have carried on the legacy begun by Cleary in No. 82. Randall Telfer and Tyler Petite each held it in recent years. In 2019, it has been passed on to Jude Wolfe.

Wolfe was a four-star recruit in the class of 2019, ranked as the No. 8 tight end in the cycle, per the 247Sports composite.

Equally capable as a receiver and a blocker, Wolfe enrolled early at USC and got to show how well he already fits the No. 82 jersey at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds. No growth spurt will be necessary for the St. John Bosco product.

Unfortunately, injury kept Wolfe from being a full participant in Spring Camp. The short glimpse of what he brought to the table revealed an athlete who may be ready to contribute right away for the Trojans.

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That’s a good thing as USC’s tight end depth is not particularly strong. Josh Falo and Erik Krommenhoek are now the veterans in the room, but Wolfe and fellow freshman Ethan Rae are the only other tight ends factored in for the 2019 season.

Stats to know: 82

  • Linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., the father of Clay Matthews III, was USC’s 82nd All-American in 1977.
  • All-American end Hal Bedsole had 82 career receptions for 1,717 yards for the Trojans.
  • An 82-yard reception against Arizona in 2011 was wide receiver Robert Woods career-long. He took a short pass in the flat, broke two tackles and found the open field for a touchdown.
  • Wide receiver Michael Pittman had 82 yards receiving as a freshman.
  • Quarterback Sam Darnold had 82 rushing yards in 2017. Those 82 yards may come in handy one day, as he set USC’s single-season record for total offense at 4,225 yards.
  • USC limited Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson to 82 yards on 25 carries in the 2005 Orange Bowl.

Next. 83 Days to Kickoff