40 days to USC football: Can Chase McGrath win back the starting job?

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

RoT’s countdown to USC football’s 2019 kickoff reaches 40 days, a perfect time to discuss the impacts of Rhett Ellison and Chase McGrath.

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USC Football is 40 days and 40 nights away from playing football. While it’s awfully tempting to fast forward to the August 31st season opener against Fresno State, it’s important to take in the past and present of the No. 40 jersey, featuring a pair of key contributors.

One’s a kicker and the other caught a touchdown pass in a memorable 50-0 butt-kicking.

Grab a tall one and let’s talk 40.

Who wore it best?

A legacy as the son of linebacker Riki (Gray) Ellison, Rhett Ellison was everything you’d want in a USC football player, not to mention someone wearing the No. 40. He stayed during sanctions to lead a 10-win team as team captain in 2011 and kept adapting his game all along the way.

Ellison started at tight end as a junior, before excelling as an H-back/fullback hybrid a year later. It was Lane Kiffin’s way of both replacing Stanley Havili and providing playing time for talented freshmen tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.

It worked. Ellison, despite the change in role, still caught a career-high 22 passes from fellow captain Matt Barkley. He also saw action on special teams, where he earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors.

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He wasn’t the most prolific tight end in school history, but 53 receptions for 471 yards and six touchdowns provided a wealth of production for the player he was. But Ellison’s biggest impact might have come off the field.

The tight end/fullback was the first recipient of the Trojan Way Leadership Award in 2011, an honor that now bears his name as the Rhett Ellison Trojan Way Leadership Award.

Other No. 40s to note include All-PCC end Ray Sparling and fullback Brandon Hancock. Both wore the number and both won a pair of national championships with the Trojans. Not bad.

Who wears it now?

Kicker and No. 40 Chase McGrath has had his career defined by the Texas series. He dramatically beat the Longhorns in 2017 with field goals both at the end of regulation and in overtime. They were the first makes of his career. Last year’s trip to Austin? One he’d like to forget. McGrath tore his ACL following a blocked field goal returned for a Texas score.

Together, the highs and lows help paint the uncertainty of his status going into 2019.

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McGrath is absolutely capable of being the leg for the Trojans, having twice been USC’s starter to break camp, while making a solid 18 of his 25 career attempts. But he’s yet to participate following knee surgery and teammate Michael Brown went 7-of-9 in his absence to create the possibility of being Wally Pipped.

It’s a undoubtedly a big fall camp for McGrath and Brown, who will have a hotly contested battle for the starting job.

Stats to know: 40

  • Linebacker Damon Bame became USC’s 40th All-American in 1963. At the time, he was just the fourth to have done it twice, joining Jess Hibbs, Erny Pinckert and Marlin McKeever.
  • The 1939 Rose Bowl was settled with a dramatic 19-yard Doyle Nave touchdown pass with 40 seconds left. The score accounted for the only points Duke allowed all season.
  • John McKay lost just 40 games in his 16-year tenure at USC.
  • The Trojans scored at least 40 points on nine different occasions in 2005, a school record. Two years before, they did it in seven-straight games to set a Pac-10 record.
  • USC has scored exactly 40 points on 13 occasions, including a 40-3 drubbing at No. 18 Colorado in 2002.
  • Anthony Davis is widely considered USC’s greatest kickoff returner. He returned 40 kicks, taking six back for touchdowns for a ridiculous 15 percent career touchdown rate. It’s a clip that is triple that of Adoree’ Jackson’s (4-of-79) .
  • Brad Otton, quarterback during the 1996 Rose Bowl, amassed 40 career touchdown passes in his time at USC. He ranked third when he graduated, but now sits 10th.

41 Days to Kickoff. Next