39 days to USC football: Sam Cunningham and Leroy Holt inspired at fullback

RoT Countdown / Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
RoT Countdown / Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images /

Sam “Bam” Cunningham was a legend and Leroy Holt was an inspirational locker room orator for USC football while wearing the No. 39 jersey.

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Take heart Trojan fans, the days until USC football’s 2019 season opener number just 39.

As the final month of the offseason fast approaches, Reign of Troy is putting the spotlight on the Trojan greats to wear each jersey number and the players who are looking to follow in their footsteps.

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No. 39 belongs to fullbacks:

Who wore it best?

There’s no debate over the greatest No. 39 in USC history.

Sam “Bam” Cunningham has rightly become an iconic figure in Trojan lore.

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As a sophomore in 1970, he played a starring role in USC’s legendary victory over Alabama. Cunningham accounted for 135 yards and two touchdowns as the all-black Trojan backfield played their part in integrating Crimson Tide football.

The story of Cunningham would be incomplete without mentioning the Alabama assistant coach who famously claimed, “Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in 60 minutes that night than Martin Luther King had accomplished in 20 years.”

Cunningham’s impact only grew on the football field. He blocked for Clarence Davis, Lou Harris and Anthony Davis over the course of his three seasons on varsity, scoring 13 touchdowns in his final All-American season.

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In the 1973 Rose Bowl, Cunningham went out with a bang, setting a modern era Rose Bowl record with four touchdowns in a romp over Ohio State which ensured USC’s national championship.

Fullback Leroy Holt went to USC because of Cunningham, wearing his number from 1986 to 1989.

While he never received the accolades of his College Football Hall of Fame precursor, Holt was the inspirational figure of those Trojan teams. Literally. He was voted USC’s Most Inspirational Player three consecutive years beginning as a sophomore in 1987.

Holt was something of a preacher in the locker room. He became known for his fiery speeches before games.

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“A lot of guys plan those kinds of speeches but he never does,” running back Aaron Emanuel explained in the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “You can see it in his eyes. He gets teary-eyed and chocked up when he speaks.

“He can also keep you laughing. He can be the team comedian. He gets us going even when we’re down. Everyone looks up to him. He’s a big brother to us.”

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That passion served him well in his job as a fullback, which requires a certain mindset.

“I think you have to be crazy to block. To play a position like fullback where you’re constantly hitting somebody all the time, only a crazy man would do something like that,” Holt told the Los Angeles Times in 1989.

While his blocking was critical, and earned him all-conference honors in 1988 and 1989, he also proved more than capable of carrying the ball. His 1,825 career yards rank 24th at USC all-time, the most by a Trojan fullback.

Like Cunningham, Holt’s career ended with a victory in the Rose Bowl. He wasn’t the hero of that game, but he played his own critical role, making up for a devastating mistake he made in USC’s 10-10 against UCLA to end the regular season, fumbling away a late chance. As one of the key blockers in USC’s off-tackle running play called “86,” Holt helped clear the way for Ricky Ervins as he punched in the winning score.

Who wears it now?

Matt Boermeester was wearing the No. 39 when he booted through the winning score in USC’s Rose Bowl victory over Penn State in 2017. Another special teams player, walk-on longsnapper Jac Casasante is the current owner of the jersey. He is set to serve as a backup to starter Damon Johnson during his redshirt freshman year.

Stats to know: 39

  • Linebacker Damon Bame was USC’s 39th All-American selection in 1962.
  • USC’s 1972 national champion squad, which featured Cunningham, averaged 39 points per game.
  • In 1995, USC bested Stanford 31-30 thanks to a touchdown from Kyle Wachholtz to Keyshawn Johnson with 39 seconds to go.
  • Lonnie White ranks 11th on USC’s career kickoff return list with 39 returns for 909 yards.
  • Adoree’ Jackson had 39 career receptions totally 628 yards and six touchdowns.
  • Running back Ronald Jones II had 39 career touchdowns.
  • Quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Cody Kessler each put up 39 touchdowns in record-setting seasons in 2011 and 2014.

Next. 40 Days to Kickoff