73 days to USC football: Austin Jackson needs to channel Tony Slaton

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /

USC football could do with left tackle Austin Jackson channeling the freakish talent of fellow No. 73 and All-American center Tony Slaton.

BEST OF USC. Top Trojans Who Weren't All-Americans

There are now 73 days until USC football returns in 2019.

The Trojans are getting closer and closer to their date with Fresno State on August 31, but patience is still required until the season begins.

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In the meantime, we’re taking a look at each USC jersey, its history and its future. Today, No. 73 is under the microscope:

Who wore it best?

In the 52 years between 1931 and 1983, USC produced 31 All-American selections on the offensive line. Not one of those was a center.

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Stan Williamson was the first and only center to achieve that honor for the Trojans, until Tony Slaton came around.

Slaton came to USC as an all-star tackle, waited his turn at guard and then swapped to center in a bid to find playing time.

It was a gamble. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder was a giant for the position. Most centers before him were more the cerebral types who out-performed their size and athleticism. Slaton was an exception, possessing rare speed for a man of his build.

“If you look at his body, you would never think he could run,” head coach Ted Tollner told the Los Angeles Times in 1983. “He’s got a pear-shaped build, big tail, and he walks with his feet out. When I first saw him I though, you’ve got to be kidding. But he’s our quickest guy off the ball.”

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He was more than the complete package. He could recognize defensive fronts, run block and pass block with equal effectiveness. He could even get a snap off and block the nose guard one-on-one.

“Tony will make blocks that a defensive coach will tell you a center can’t make,” offensive line coach Pat Morris said in the LA Times.

When Marcus Allen exploded for 2,427 yards in 1981, Slaton was a first year starter at center. He was recognized for the role he played in the running backs’ success that season with an all-conference selection.

His excellent play continued in 1982, but it wasn’t until 1983 that Slaton started to get national recognition for his efforts.

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Named a Playboy Pre-Season All-American ahead of his senior campaign, the fact that USC stumbled to a 4-6-1 season didn’t get in the way of voters dubbing Slaton a consensus All-American. USC also named him the Offensive Player of the Year.

Who wears it now?

He’s not a center, but USC could sure use Austin Jackson tapping into some of that Slaton mojo in 2019.

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Jackson certainly has the size at 6-foot-6, 305 pounds. He also has the athleticism, with quick feet and the ability to move with purpose. He just has to put it all together.

The 2018 season wasn’t kind to any of USC’s starters on the offensive line, but Jackson in particular was well below the level of his potential.

Returning in 2019 as a junior, the Trojans are hoping two things will help Jackson click. The first is the presence of new offensive line coach Tim Drevno. The second is the simplification of the blocking schemes in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid.

Jackson’s mentality appears to be right at the very least. He was voted the winner of the John McKay Award for 2018 as the underclassman who showed the most competitive spirit.

Stats to know: 73

  • Offensive guard Bill Bain was USC’s 73rd All-American in 1974.
  • Nose guard George Achica finished his career with 73 tackles in the 1982 season when he was named a consensus All-American. Linebacker Brian Cushing also achieved All-American status with 73 tackles in his senior season in 2008.
  • Wide receiver Steve Smith caught a 73-yard touchdown from Matt Leinart against Oregon State when he was a freshman in 2003. It was the longest catch of his career.
  • Wide receiver Marqise Lee gave a taste of what his 2012 Biletnikoff Award season could be when he caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011.
  • Curtis Conway had 73 kickoff returns in his career, racking up 1,723 yards on special teams. That ranks second in USC history behind only Adoree’ Jackson.
  • Speaking of Jackson, in the 2014 Holiday Bowl, he amassed 203 all-purpose yards, including 73 yards receiving on three catches.
  • Linebacker Brian Williams and wide receiver Damien Williams were both taken with the 73rd overall pick in the NFL Draft. The former went to the Packers while the latter went to the Titans.

Next. 74 Days to Kickoff