80 days to USC football: Duane Bickett became a Trojan star by chance

RoT Countdown / Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Bernstein Associates/Getty Images (Reign of Troy) /

Duane Bickett made his way to USC football by chance while Johnnie Morton and Deontay Burnett produced two of the most memorable catches in Trojan history.

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The days until USC football returns continue to tick down, now reaching the nice round number of 80.

In Trojan lore, the No. 80 has produced some exceptional players and moments.

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Here’s a look at the jersey’s bright past:

Who wore it best?

From 1981 through 1984, versatile Duane Bickett terrorized opposing offenses from the linebacker position in the No. 80.

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Funnily enough, Bickett was better known as a basketball player for Glendale High School and most of his career highlights on the football field at that level came on offense as a tight end.

He didn’t even play linebacker until his second season at USC, and it was only by chance that he got the chance to wear cardinal and gold at all. Trojan coaches were scouting an opposing player on film, but it was Bickett’s athleticism and toughness which stood out. They offered him a scholarship and it wasn’t a tough choice to take them up on it. His only other offers were from the University of Pacific and Cal State Fullerton.

Growing to 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Bickett filled in on defense wherever he was needed in 1982 and 1983. As a junior he posted 105 tackles and eight tackles for loss with six deflections while lining up on the inside.

In 1984 he got his chance to really shine at outside linebacker opposite Jack Del Rio. That year he exploded with 151 tackles and a team-best 16 tackles for loss. As the OLB responsible for dropping into coverage, he also added 13 deflections and an interception.

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The production was worthy of All-American acclaim and more. Bickett was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year as the Trojans bounced back from a dismal 1983 showing to win the conference and the Rose Bowl.

All the while, Bickett excelled off of the football field. He was an Academic All-American and a National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete.

On the other side of the ball, the No. 80 was given its due by a pair of outstanding wide receivers for the Trojans.

Johnnie Morton was a consensus All-American in 1993 in the jersey, leading the Pac-10 in receptions and receiving yards per game. His 88 receptions for 1,520 yards and 14 touchdowns is the eight-best statistical season by a Trojan in history. Nor was his importance to the Trojans limited to one campaign. He led the team in catches in 1991 and 1992 as well.

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Most famously, as a freshman in 1990, Morton caught a 23-yard pass from Todd Marinovich with 16 seconds remaining against UCLA, securing a 45-42 victory in the rivalry game.

Deontay Burnett followed in his footsteps more recently, playing the hero in the waning minutes of the 2017 Rose Bowl. He tied a Rose Bowl record with three touchdown catches on the night and the next season set a Cotton Bowl record with 12 receptions for 139 yards.

Who wears it now?

The No. 80 is currently vacant and has been since Burnett declared for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season.

There are receivers joining up in the class of 2019 who could take on the task of living up to its legacy. Kyle Ford, Drake London and Munir McClain are slated to arrive this summer ahead of Fall Camp.

Stats to know: 80

  • USC’s largest margin of victory and highest winning score in history was 80 points in an 80-0 victory over Pomona in 1925.
  • Offensive tackle Marvin Powell was USC’s 80th All-American in 1976.
  • Safety Dennis Thurman achieved All-American status for the first of two times in 1976 with 80 tackles.
  • Wide receiver Marqise Lee’s season-long reception in 2013 went for 80 yards against Boston College.
  • Defensive lineman Leonard Williams posted 80 tackles in 2014 when he was an All-American and USC’s Defensive Lineman of the Year for the second time in a row.
  • Running back Stephen Carr’s highest rushing total in 2018 was 80 yards against Arizona.
  • The Trojans scored 80 points in the fourth quarter in 2018, their second best total behind 106 points in the second quarter.

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