52 days to USC football: Jack Del Rio was a bully on the football field

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

USC football’s greatest No. 52, Jack Del Rio, was a bully on the football field even though he once dreamed of being a basketball star.

BEST OF USC. Top 10 Trojan LBs

The days until USC football returns now number 52.

The Trojans are getting closer and closer to their date with Fresno State on August 31 every day, but the time is still in need of passing.

CHECK OUT: Freshman CB Trey Davis enters transfer portal

So we at Reign of Troy are exploring the history of USC’s jersey numbers, like No. 52:

Who wore it best?

USC’s greatest No. 52, Jack Del Rio, was born to be a great football player, even if he didn’t particularly want to be one at first.

Basketball was his first love and if he’d had the choice, he would have played on the hard court. But his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame was more suited to football and it was on that field where he made his name.

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Del Rio was a special recruit coming out of high school, coveted by just about everyone, but his approach to the recruiting process wasn’t exactly normal. He told The San Francisco Examiner in 1981 that he eliminated Cal from consideration because he didn’t want to be “the star right away.”

“By going to SC, I’ll be last on the depth chart and I can sort of work my way up at my pace,” he said.

Del Rio didn’t have to be the star at USC right away—All-American Chip Banks was in the linebacker corps in 1981 after all—but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t become one anyways. Five weeks into his freshman season the Trojans elevated him to the starting lineup on the outside.

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It was aggression which ensured Del Rio would quickly climb the depth chart and earn a place on the field. A self-described bully growing up, he used football as an outlet for his emotions and they carried him far.

“I really love the physical aspect of the game,” Del Rio told the San Bernardino County Sun in 1981. “Every time I take on an offensive lineman, it’s like a private war, and if I can control him, I win. That’s a great feeling. I get the same feeling whenever I get a really good stick on a ballcarrier. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it feels real good. It juices me up.”

Del Rio won his fair share of those private wars. He led USC with 11 tackles for loss as a freshmen, then repeated that feat with 18 in 1982 and 16 in 1983.

By 1984, his senior campaign, Del Rio was recognized as a consensus All-American while putting up 96 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, a team-best seven sacks and seven deflections.

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And he did all that while also playing baseball for the Trojans.

Del Rio, who capped his Trojan career with a Rose Bowl MVP Award in the 1985 victory over Ohio State, was inducted into the USC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015.

Who wears it now?

Two Trojans will rock the No. 52 in 2019.

Offensive guard Jacob Daniel enters his senior season with hopes of becoming a member of the rotation in the trenches. He has played in just one game since making the transition from defensive tackle in 2017.

DEPTH CHART: Predicting USC’s lineup in 2019

At linebacker, walk-on Spencer Gilbert out of St. John Bosco is responsible for Del Rio’s number after earning USC’s Service Team Co-Defensive Player of the Year Award while redshirting in 2018.

Stats to know: 52

  • Defensive end Jimmy Gunn was USC’s 52nd All-American in 1969.
  • From 1972 to 1974, Anthony Davis amassed 3,724 yards and 52 touchdowns, which was a Pac-8 record for production.
  • Running back Reggie Bush completed just one pass in 2004, a 52-yard touchdown against Arizona State.
  • Sam Darnold led USC 52 yards down the field in the final seconds against Texas in 2017 to set up Chase McGrath’s game-tying field goal, sending the game into overtime.
  • Darnold was also the hero of USC’s 52-49 victory over Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl, engineering a 14-point fourth quarter comeback.
  • Adoree’ Jackson scored a 52-yard touchdown against Notre Dame in 2016, one of three scores he put up on the day.
  • Stephen Carr had two runs of 52 yards in his first two games as a Trojan, first scoring a touchdown against Western Michigan in his debut then breaking loose for the long gainer against Stanford to set up a USC touchdown. They remain his career long.
  • In 2015, USC set a school record with 52 kickoff returns.

53 Days to Kickoff. Next