24 days to USC football: The legend of Orv Mohler, the promise of Ben Griffiths

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

Orv Mohler was one of the greatest Trojans of the Howard Jones Era wearing No. 24 for USC football. A couple of prospects, Ben Griffiths and Max Williams, are next up.

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There are 24 days until USC football opens up the 2019 campaign.

That means the Reign of Troy countdown to kickoff is down to No. 24, a number worn by all types of Trojans stars.

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Here’s a look at its history and future:

Who wore it best?

Orv Mohler was one of those old-time Trojan athletes whose achievements can hardly be put in perspective by modern standards.

The No. 24 burst onto the scene in 1930, gaining All-American honors by leading USC with 983 yards rushing. That was second only to Morley Drury’s 1927 total and it was only surpassed in 1965 when Mike Garrett bested both marks.

Braven Dyer of the Los Angeles Times compared Mohler favorably to Drury, who was known as the “noblest Trojan of them all” and was considered the gold standard of USC athletes.

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Bob Weide, also of the LA Times, called Mohler the “greatest field general in Trojan history” and raved about his ability to “glide through the smallest hole imaginable” and “slither off opposition tacklers.”

Danny May, a high school teammate of Mohler’s credited him with being “the first of the great open field runners to point out opponents for his teammates to block.”

In 1931, Mohler played a key role in victories which would secure USC the national championship, including the Trojans’ epic victory over Notre Dame.

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His career might have been even greater if not for a career-ending neck injury suffered against Stanford in Week 5 of his senior campaign in 1932.

With 2,025 yards to his name, Mohler still ranks 19th on USC’s career rushing list.

Mohler’s legendary status made his unfortunate death in 1949 all the more stunning.

After giving up football and trying his hand at professional baseball briefly, he went to work in the oil industry and eventually joined the Air Force in 1941.

He was piloting his B-25 bomber from South Bend to Montgomery, Alabama when engine trouble struck. Two others parachuted out of the craft, but Mohler attempted to land and was killed in the ensuing crash.

Dyer paid tribute to the fallen All-American by relaying a story of how Mohler had given up his chance at repeating as the Pacific Coast Conference scoring leader in 1931 when he called a play at the goal line to give teammate Gus Shaver, his main competition for the honor, the chance to score the decisive touchdown instead.

“That was Orv Mohler always. . .unselfish. . .as he was to the tragic end when he ordered his men to jump to safety as he fought to land his crippled plane.”

Who wears it now?

Two Trojans have the ability to make their mark in No. 24 in 2019 and beyond.

Defensive back Max Williams took over the jersey from Isaiah Langley, who graduated after the 2018 season.

Williams arrived at USC in the spring while still recovering from a high school knee injury, but his faster-than-expected progress in rehab has him fully participating in Fall Camp. Competing at nickelback, he has the chance to become an early contributor.

On special teams, big things are expected of new punter Ben Griffiths, who will share the No. 24.

Griffiths played eight seasons of professional Australian rules football but gave up the sport because of concussions. He joined up with Prokick Australia to convert his talents to American football with the hope of furthering his education with a college football scholarship.

When it comes to possibilities, a degree from USC is far from the ceiling for Griffiths, whose ability to boot a football might be the most impressive since All-American Tom Malone.

Stats to know: 24

  • Guard Harry Smith was USC’s 24th ever All-American in 1939.
  • All-American end Garret Arbelbide had 24 career receptions for 599 yards and seven touchdowns.
  • Kevin Williams holds the NCAA record for highest percentage of receptions for touchdowns with 40 more catches in a regular season, scoring 24 touchdowns in 68 catches for a percentage of 35.3.
  • Wide receiver Marqise Lee set or tied 24 USC records during his Biletnikoff-winning career.
  • If you ignore the NCAA’s vacated wins, which is generally a good policy, USC holds the Pac-12 record for consecutive home wins with 24 from 2001 to 2007.
  • When the Trojans beat Tennessee 14-0 in the 1940 Rose Bowl to win the national title, they ended the Volunteers’ 24-game winning streak.
  • USC bested Colorado in 2000 thanks to David Newbury’s 24-yard kick with 13 seconds remaining. Chase McGrath hit his overtime winner against Texas in 2017 from the same distance.

Next. 25 Days to Kickoff