35 days to USC football: Cam Smith made the No. 35 matter again

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

USC football’s No. 35 has history. Cameron Smith made sure of it, after four years as the Trojans’ starting middle linebacker.

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Reign of Troy’s countdown to the 2019 USC football season has reached the five week mark. In just 35 days, the Trojans will take the field at the LA Coliseum against the Fresno State Bulldogs.

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Those 35 days represent the same number worn by heroic linebackers at USC, none more recent and important to the legacy than Cameron Smith. Let’s get into it.

Who wore it best?

While not as illustrious as the No. 55 at USC, the No. 35 has an iconic history of its own. Since 1978, it’s been worn by several prominent linebackers in Trojan history, from All-Pac-10 selection Riki Gray (Ellison) to All-American Scott Ross. Then, there’s team captain Jeff Kopp and most recently, All-Pac-12 first-teamer Cameron Smith.

Smith, a rookie for the Minnesota Vikings, may not have had the accolades of his predecessors, but breathing life back into the No. 35 could prove to be the most meaningful part of a collective legacy. Especially when he did it much in the same fashion: as a starter for seemingly ever, while leading extremely talented defenses that left the previous No. 35s relatively forgotten compared to their peers.

And so each of Smith’s umpteenth interceptions against Utah put the legacy of the late Scott Ross back onto the field, and out of the shadows of Junior Seau, Mark Carrier and Tim Ryan. Every tackle made Ellison more memorable for his impact as a linebacker, than as Rhett’s dad.

They all mattered again.

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Smith made it so, all while fighting through injuries much in the way Ellison started it all. An All-Conference linebacker in 1979, the New Zealander blew out his knee in the 1980 Rose Bowl against Ohio State. Three years and multiple surgeries later, he led the team in tackles and the never-say-die legacy of the No. 35 was born.

Ross took it to new heights nearly a decade later. After excelling in an unheralded role during the peak of the Larry Smith Era, he broke out as the team’s chief defensive star during his senior year in 1990. Ross totaled 81 tackles, seven pass breakups and a pair of interceptions to earn All-American honors himself.

His greatness kept the number alive for Kopp, a three-year starter, who twice led USC in tackles. He was named team captain in 1994, when he won the Davis-Teschke Award as the team’s most inspirational player.

Taso Papadakis, Lee Webb and Uona Kaveinga all wore the number and saw time at linebacker during the 21 years between Kopp and Cam Smith, but they weren’t able to revitalize it in the same way.

The question now, is what does it mean for the future?

Who wears it now?

No one. Just as USC looks for the next great Trojan linebacker to wear the No. 55, they sit in a holding pattern on the No. 35.

Stats to know: 35

  • USC’s 35th All-American was Marlin McKeever in 1959.
  • The Trojans set a Pac-12 record with 35-straight home wins from 2001 to 2007. The streak-ender? USC’s stunning 24-23 loss to 40-point underdog Stanford.
  • Troy has scored 35 points exactly 26 times, including a 35-0 win over Pitt in the 1933 Rose Bowl, the school’s overtime game in 1996 and John Robinson’s 100th career victory in 1997.
  • USC trails only Alabama in bowl victories, with 35. Unless you consider the 2005 Orange Bowl vacated, making it 34.
  • The Trojans have won exactly 35 games in the city of Berkeley, dating back to 1915.
  • Clay Helton’s first-ever game as a head coach came in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl. The Trojans beat Fresno State after jumping out to a commanding 35-6 lead.
  • USC is 35-10 in their last 45 games against Big Ten opponents. The most recent victory? The 2017 Rose Bowl over Penn State.

Next. 36 Days to Kickoff