30 days to USC football: Markese Stepp is on the march

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

No. 30 Johnny Baker played a role in one of the greatest USC football victories ever. Now running back Markese Stepp is looking to create a legacy of his own.

Top 10 Trojan RBs. BEST OF USC

The countdown to USC football’s 2019 season is down to 30 days.

The Trojans will welcome Fresno State to the Coliseum on August 31. The arrival of Fall Camp will certainly help the days pass quicker, but so can Reign of Troy’s continuing examination of the players behind each jersey number.

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Today, we’re looking at No. 30:

Who wore it best?

No. 30 Johnny Baker was responsible for the first truly great dramatic finish in USC history.

His heroics date back to 1931, when USC faced off with Notre Dame in South Bend in a game which would ultimately determine the national championship.

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The Irish carried a 26-game winning streak into the contest while the Trojans were clear underdogs, having never bested Notre Dame on their home turf.

Despite being down 14-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, USC engineered an astounding comeback.

That’s when Baker stepped into the spotlight.

THROWBACK: The full story of USC’s 1931 comeback vs. Notre Dame

Baker was a guard whose blocking had been key to the Trojans scoring two touchdowns in the final period of the game. That alone had been quite the turnaround for him. In 1930, USC was blasted 27-0 at the Coliseum. In a game which featured plenty of bad performances, Baker’s was particularly poor. His All-American hopes had been dashed that day.

A year later, he was once again an All-American candidate and the game against Notre Dame would ensure more than just national recognition that year. It would ultimately put him in the College Football Hall of Fame.

USC drove into field goal range as the final minute of play neared. Baker was USC’s designated place kicker, but he only got the chance to take the kick because captain Stan Williamson gave him a vote of confidence. When head coach Howard Jones had attempted to send in a dropkick specialist, Williamson waved him back to the bench.

Baker repaid his captain’s faith by lining up the 33-yard field goal and putting it through the uprights.

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By the end of the season, voters made Baker a consensus All-American as USC claimed the national title.

Who wears it now?

Markese Stepp is the new owner of the No. 30 and he’s wasted little time establishing himself as one of the brightest young prospects on USC’s roster.

The 6-foot, 235-pounder is a power back with a smash mouth running style. He really got to show that off in Spring Camp by barreling through defenders with regularity.

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Fans have only gotten a small taste of his ability. He had four cameo appearances during his redshirt season in 2018 gaining 33 yards in seven carries. He was also the breakout star of USC’s Spring Game with a long touchdown run.

Enthusiasm is high, but there are still questions for Stepp to answer. First and foremost, will he be able to find a role as a power back in Graham Harrell’s Air Raid offense, especially with limited natural pass catching and blocking ability.

Head coach Clay Helton has praised Stepp’s ability as a runner, but he’s not yet a complete back. The closer he gets to that status, the closer he will be to a starring role.

For now, Stepp is likely to remain a third option behind Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, awaiting his turn.

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Stepp isn’t the only No. 30 hoping to build on a promising cameo appearance. Walk-on safety Jordan McMillan was a surprise participant for USC against Notre Dame, acquitting himself well despite being thrown into the fire because of injuries. He grabbed an interception and may have shown enough to suggest he’s the next Matt Lopes, a walk-on with the ability to break into the playing rotation eventually.

Stats to know: 30

  • Back Frank Gifford was USC’s 30th All-American of all-time in 1951.
  • In his 1952 All-American campaign, Jim Sears returned 30 punts for 478 yards and three touchdowns.
  • All-American halfback Jon Arnett finished his career with 30 touchdowns.
  • Two-time All-American end Marlin McKeever had 30 career receptions for 430 yards and two touchdowns.
  • All-American wide receiver Mike Williams put himself third all-time at USC with 30 career touchdowns in just two seasons with the Trojans.
  • Chris Hale led USC in pass deflections in 1988 with 30. That’s the most ever registered by a Trojan.
  • When USC won the 2003 national title, they scored 30 points in 11 consecutive games, which was a Pac-10 record. In 2005, they bested that streak with 13 in a row.
  • The 2004 national champions set a school record by winning eight games by a margin of 30 or more points.

31 Days to Kickoff. Next