31 days to USC football: Hunter Echols has a new role, opportunity to break out

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

Hunter Echols has a new role in the transformed outside linebacker unit, looking to become the next great No. 31 for USC football since Stanley Havili.

Top 10 Trojan LBs. BEST OF USC

USC football’s 2019 season is exactly a month away. That’s 31 more days until kickoff.

The Trojans will welcome Fresno State to the Coliseum on August 31. Until then, Reign of Troy is highlighting the men behind each USC jersey number.

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So let’s take a look at No. 31:

Who wore it best?

The 25 players on USC’s list of career pass catching leaders include all-time great receivers like Marqise Lee and Keyshawn Johnson, productive veterans like Keary Colbert and Kareem Kelly and exceptional tight ends like Fred Davis.

There’s an unlikely player on that list as well: Fullback Stanley Havili.

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Havili, USC’s most outstanding No. 31, ranks 22nd on USC’s career receiving chart with 116 career receptions for 1,290 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s ahead of Tyler Vaughns and just behind Davis.

As a pass-catching fullback, Havili gave the Trojans a truly unique weapon by sneaking out of the backfield and giving linebackers a mismatch nightmare, when they remembered to cover him.

The athletic 6-foot-1, 225-pounder wasted no time working his way into USC’s lineup. He earned his first start three games into his true freshman season in 2006 before breaking his leg and sitting out with a medical redshirt.

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When he returned in 2007 he was no worse for wear. He started every game and caught 34 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns. He would maintain similar numbers through his senior season in 2010, when he was voted a team captain and awarded as USC’s Most Inspirational Player.

Somehow, Havili never achieved more recognition than an All-Pac-10 honorable mention, which is more a reflection of his unusual classification than his level.

Defensive back Gary Hill, who wore the No. 31 from 1962 to 1964 did achieve all-conference status.

Who wears it now?

Interestingly enough, two defenders currently wear the No. 31 for USC: outside linebacker Hunter Echols and walk-on safety Richard Hagestad.

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Echols is one of the more intriguing figures on the Trojan defense going into 2019.

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He reportedly flirted with the possibility of entering the transfer portal before the start of Spring Camp, presumably uncertain of his role in the defense when Clancy Pendergast essentially eliminated the Predator position and shifted to a larger defensive front. Worries for USC’s outside linebackers were assuaged when it became clear a special package was being installed to utilize them as pass rush specialists.

In Spring Camp, Echols appeared to top the depth chart in that position, getting the opportunity to rush off the edge with abandon. Competition from the likes of Eli’Jah Winston and Abdul-Malik McClain looms, however.

More pass rush contributions from Echols and the outside linebackers is essential to USC’s plans this campaign. Fortunately, Echols possesses all the skill and athleticism necessary to thrive in that role, on paper at least. He simply needs to prove he can get the job done in live action.

Echols redshirted in 2017 while slowed by surgery resulting from a hip infection. He played in all but one game last year, but had limited impact with six total tackles. The 2019 season will be his first big chance to make a mark.

Stats to know: 31

  • Tailback-safety-punter-return-man Jim Sears was USC’s 31st ever All-American in 1952.
  • USC’s all-time leading rusher Charles White had 31 career 100-yard rushing games.
  • Heisman-winning quarterback Carson Palmer had 31 200-yard passing games in his career.
  • Mickey McCardle ranks 17th on USC’s career punt return list with 31 returns for 390 yards.
  • The Trojan record for interceptions in a season belongs to the 1952 squad, which stole 31 passes out of the air.
  • USC scored 31 unanswered points against Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl to run away with a 38-17 win.
  • New linebackers coach Joe DeForest has 31 years of coaching experience.

Next. 32 Days to Kickoff