29 days to USC football: Vavae Malepeai is set for a breakout campaign

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

USC football’s No. 29 jersey was worn best by an offensive lineman, but in 2019 the Trojans are looking for big things from running back Vavae Malepeai.

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USC football is 29 days away.

The countdown to the Trojans’ 2019 season continues with the end of another week and the dawn of Fall Camp, which kicks off on Friday afternoon.

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Before the action on Howard Jones Field commences, we’re looking at the history of USC’s No. 29:

Who wore it best?

Raymond “Tay” Brown wore No. 29 with distinction during one of the most successful periods in USC football history.

In three years on the Trojan varsity, Brown served as an offensive lineman, losing just three games.

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In 1931, Brown was an All-PCC selection as USC claimed Howard Jones’ second national title. The next year, he was selected as a team captain and went on to lead the Trojans to another championship. He was named an All-American and USC’s Most Inspirational Player.

Why the nickname “Tay?” Brown’s brother couldn’t say Ray when he was an infant. His failed attempt at pronouncing his brother’s name stuck. It’s the name under which Brown was ultimately inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Brown, nickname and all, might have become more of a household name in USC circles, if not for a bit of misfortune.

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In 1951, the Trojans selected Jess Hill as their new head coach over Brown, who was a successful head coach at Compton Junior College.

When Hill left his post in 1956, USC had another coaching search on their hands. Brown, who desperately wanted the job, was again considered, but there were worries over his outspoken nature. Per the Long Beach Independent, “it was felt he might have lacked the delicate polish to sell himself to the Board of Trustees.”

Brown had been selected by an eight-man selection committee to replace Hill. However, the news leaked out early and “a jittery hierchy” overrode the committee and instead settled on Trojan assistant Don Clark to lead the program. Clark went on to win a conference title in 1959 before being replaced by John McKay.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Who wears it now?

The No. 29 is currently in the hands of two Trojans: Running back Vavae Malepeai and freshman cornerback Jayden Williams.

Malepeai is poised for a breakout season in 2019.

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The redshirt junior already sparked with strong running ability in 2018, but he rarely held the starring role. With Stephen Carr’s injury history still looming large and Malepeai’s all-around skill set suiting the new Air Raid offense, it may be his time to shine.

After all, Malepeai is the best pass blocker USC has in the running back corps. He can catch the ball reliably and runs with purpose, mixing deceptive quickness and grit to gain maximum yards on every carry.

As for Williams, he is in the same position as USC’s new crop of defensive backs. Since the Trojans are replacing starters across all five positions in the secondary, competition is wide open. But there is a wide range of possibilities for Williams and company. His 2019 season could include anything from a full-time starting position to working exclusively on the scout team.

Stats to know: 29

  • All-conference return man Johnny Williams, who also wore No. 29, is 15th on USC’s career kickoff return list with 29 returns for 686 yards.
  • Linebacker Pat Cannamela was USC’s 29th ever All-American in 1951.
  • Todd Marinovich had 29 career touchdown passes for USC.
  • All-American wide receiver Marqise Lee had 29 career touchdowns from 2011 to 2013.
  • All-American cornerback Adoree’ Jackson had 29 career deflections from 2014 to 2016.
  • All-American tight end Charles Young had 29 receptions for 470 yards and three touchdowns in his final season in Troy in 1972.
  • USC’s 1972 national champion defense didn’t allow a run longer than 29 yards all season.
  • The first and only time the Rose Bowl featured two teams from the same conference was in 1944 because of travel restrictions during World War II. USC and Washington were the opponents in that game and it wasn’t much of a contest with the Trojans blasting the Huskies 29-0.
  • The second-coldest game played by the Trojans was 29 degrees, a mark shared by the 1949, 1952 and 1959 Notre Dame games and the 2013 Colorado game. All were away.

Next. 30 Days to Kickoff