62 days to USC football: It’s Brett Neilon’s time at center

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /
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It’s just 62 days until USC football, meaning we’re looking back at more All-Americans and ahead to Brett Neilon’s opportunity.

Top Five-Star Trojans Ever. BEST OF USC

Saturday marked the nine-week mark to USC Football’s season opener against Fresno State. Sunday ticks the countdown to just 62 days, as we inch closer and closer to being able to say the Trojans are just a pair of months away.

Fittingly, USC had a pair of highly touted centers going into 2019, but No. 62 might just be the man all along.

Let’s focus on that number.

Who wore it best?

The No. 62 has been worn by five all-conference selections, two of them named Frank.

Frank Fiorentino was the first of those, picking up All-PCC honors in 1958. As a veteran presence at guard, he was part of the group which helped head coach Don Clark shake off a 1-9 debut record with a more respectable showing in Year 2.

Frank Lopez followed a few years later, grabbing all-conference honors also at guard in 1965.

His triumph on the football field came on the heels of a great family tragedy. In the April before his senior season, his older brother Alexander was trapped in his home during a fire and perished. Frank and another brother tried to rescue him but couldn’t get to him through the flames.

The year before, in 1964, Lopez was a hero for USC against Notre Dame, recovering a Mike Garrett fumble late in the game against Notre Dame. Had the No. 1 Irish recovered the ball, it would have meant certain victory. Instead, the Trojans engineered a late touchdown to down their rivals.

The only other Frank all-conference picks in USC history were Frank Gifford and Frank Buncom. That’s out of 22 Trojan Franks all-time.

As for the non-Franks in No. 62, standouts include national title-winning center Norm Katnik, end Gene Hibbs, who was the star of USC’s 1936 squad and Al Krueger, the hero of the Trojans’ 1939 Rose Bowl victory.

Who wears it now?

Another exceptional No. 62 was Norm Katnik, the center for USC’s 2003 national championship team. Redshirt sophomore Brett Neilon would do well to follow his example in becoming a stalwart in the middle for the Trojans.

Neilon will go into his third season at USC in the No. 62 jersey, with a starting job there for the taking after backing up Toa Lobendahn for the last two years. He even stepped in for Lobendahn when he was injured for the first game of the season in 2018, performing his duties without issue. It led to subsequent —yet unanswered— calls for him to replace the veteran when snapping issues became a serious problem.

Spring Camp was supposed to pit Neilon against Justin Dedich in a battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, but Neilon maintained first-team reps throughout. The competition appeared over even before it began.

The greatest concerns over USC’s offense revolve around the offensive line. Having a new face at the center of it could be just what the doctor ordered, especially if the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Neilon can live up to the expectations which had him ranked second at the position coming out of high school.

Stats to know: 62

  • Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham was USC’s 62nd All-American, getting the honor on the Trojans’ 1972 national championship team.
  • Fred Davis set the USC record for tight end receptions in a season with 62 in 2007. He also won the Mackey Award for it, as the nation’s best tight end.
  • In 2002, USC beat UCLA and Notre Dame by a combined 62 points. That’s the highest combined margin of victory in Trojan history.
  • USC has never allowed more than 62 points. And until recently, they hadn’t given up that much. Both Oregon in 2012 and Arizona State in 2013 now share the opponent record for points against the Trojans, at 62.
  • The Trojans have scored exactly 62 points themselves three times, including a 62-0 romp over the crew of the USS Arizona in 1921. Yes. You read that right.
  • Frank Gifford had just one punt in 1950. It went for a whopping 62 yards.

Next. 63 Days to Kickoff