58 days to USC football: Can Tuliaupupu follow in Maualuga’s footsteps?

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

While not as transcendent as the No. 55 jersey, the 58 has become a legendary number for All-American Polynesian linebackers. Can Solomon Tuliaupupu live up to the standard set by Lofa Tatupu and Rey Maualuga?

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There’s no better way to celebrate the freedom of Independence Day than looking back at some USC Football players whose play declared them legends. It’s 58 days until the Trojans’ season opener against Fresno State, which calls for focusing on the No. 58 jersey.

Let’s hop into the tale of the famed linebacker number.

Who wore it best?

The No. 55 gets the spotlight with names like Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Chris Claiborne dominating at USC. But it’s hard not to say the No. 58 has been the better linebacker number since the turn of the century, since it evolved into a historic number for Polynesians.

It was Lofa Tatupu who first put it into the history books with a stellar two-year stay after transferring from Maine. He may have become a Trojan at birth after his father Mosi’s storied career, but it was the 2003 season opener that baptized Tatupu into being a stalwart for USC.

He recorded 12 tackles right out of the gate, including 3.5 for loss. From then on, he was the heart and soul of back-to-back national championship teams on defense. He became an All-American in 2004.

Following suit was Rey Maualuga, who inherited the jersey from Tatupu in 2005. After being a reserve contributor as a freshman, he started in 2006 and put together a remarkably consistent career. He totaled 78, 79 and 79 tackles on three-straight Rose Bowl teams with him as a starter at middle linebacker.

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Like Tatupu before him, he was the face for USC’s vaunted defense, especially during the historic 2008 campaign that saw the Trojans kept six different opponents without a touchdown. Maualuga won the Bednarik Award and stands as one of the most iconic linebackers in school history, thanks to a highlight reel of monster hits.

Since the back-to-back All-Americans left USC, the No. 58 has only been worn by promising Polynesian players. JR Tavai had a strong stint on campus, before the number was given to freshmen Osa Masina in 2015 and Solomon Tuliaupupu in 2018. The former sandbagged his own career with a heinous criminal record, while the latter still awaits his opportunity.

Who wears it now?

The aforementioned Solomon Tuliaupupu got to USC as a headliner in the 2018 recruiting class out of Mater Dei. But while teammates JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown immediately won starting jobs, the four-star linebacker had to rehab a foot injury and redshirt.

This upcoming season has looked to be his opportunity to make his first impact with the Trojans. However, after four impressive appearances in spring practice, he was sidelined with foot soreness for the remainder of camp.

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The brevity of spring keeps Tuliaupupu an enigma for the Trojans in 2019, at least until fall camp.

If those practices were any indication, he can absolutely prove to be a valuable contributor even in a well-stocked linebacker corps this season. But the first priority is just getting and staying on the field.

Stats to know: 58

  • In 1971, offensive tackle John Vella became the 58th All-American in USC history.
  • While Rodney Peete and Todd Marinovich evolved the USC quarterback position during the Larry Smith era, it was All-Pac-10 first-teamer Rob Johnson who became the first high-volume signal caller in school history. He was the first 3,000-yard passer in 1993 and set a slew of records, including 58 career touchdown passes.
  • From 1888 to 1923, USC played 73 games on campus. They won 58.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown led the Trojans with 60 receptions in 2018, the fewest for a team leader since Damian Williams’ 58 in 2008.
  • When Mark Carrier won the Thorpe Award in 1989, he did so while registering seven interceptions returned for 58 yards.
  • Do-everything All-American Marlin McKeever had 58 career punts.
  • Reggie Bush scored on a 58-yard touchdown run against Notre Dame in 2003. It stood as his longest run as a freshman.
  • Sedrick Ellis had 58 tackles during his dominant All-American campaign on the 2007 Trojan team.

59 Days to Kickoff. Next