21 days to USC football: Tyler Vaughns is the latest great No. 21

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

The No. 21 jersey has been worn by USC football stars. But could Tyler Vaughns become the first to be an All-American?

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Football-less Saturdays are winding down, as Saturday marked the three-week mark to USC football at the Coliseum. Those 21 days correspond to one of the most interesting jerseys in school history, the No. 21.

Let’s talk about it…

Who wore it best?

The No. 21 has been worn by several memorable Trojan greats throughout history. Yet somehow, someway, none have ever earned All-American honors. It makes LenDale White the perfect representative for the jersey.

An undeniable legend in his own right, White was overshadowed by a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in his backfield by the name of Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart. Together, they were unstoppable, making it the cushiest playing of third-fiddle imaginable.

Who needs to be an All-American, when you’ve got a pair of national championships and several school records to your name, including the title of ‘most prolific scorer in school history’.

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White’s achievements include still-standings highs for the most career touchdowns, points and rushing touchdowns, along with single-season marks for total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns and freshman touchdowns— rushing and otherwise.

The near-All-American tag wasn’t just LenDale White’s claim to fame while wearing the No. 21.

Quarterback Jim Hardy got inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame with three scores in the 1945 Granddaddy. Nickell Robey, who earned All-Pac-12 honors in 2011, became one of the best pure cornerbacks to wear cardinal and gold.

But it’s Su’a Cravens who might have come the closest. The hybrid outside linebacker for the Trojans played for four head coaches in three seasons, twice being a first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

He did everything for the Trojans on defense, recording 32 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and five interceptions in his final two seasons. Yet unlike Uchenna Nwosu two years later, Cravens didn’t even catch a digital honor and therefore isn’t on the All-American wall outside of the McKay Center.

Then there’s…

Who wears it now?

Tyler Vaughns (and Isaiah Pola-Mao, but we’ll get to him later).

Remember how LenDale White was a sidekick to Bush and Leinart? That’s where Vaughns has found himself in 2019.

The redshirt-junior receiver returns to USC as one of the most underrated talents in the country because of the talent around him, chiefly Michael Pittman and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Both Pittman and St. Brown have been ballyhooed many times over this offseason, on watch lists, preseason All-Whatever teams and the like. Meanwhile, neither had more touchdowns than Vaughns last season. He and Pittman were tied with a team-high six.

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The lanky wideout plays a physical yet nimble game, with a deceptive speed that saw him excel as USC’s primary punt returner in 2018. With another year of seasoning on special teams and a new air raid scheme on offense, Vaughns should only get better in Year 4.

Will he end the All-American drought for No. 21? It’ll be an uphill climb, given the competition on his team. But the Bishop Amat product is more than capable of making a case for himself, should everything go right. He’ll just need the new offense to help him find a consistency in his game that alluded him last season.

Ironically, Isaiah Pola-Mao, a redshirt-sophomore safety, will be looking for anything but consistency in 2019. He’s missed the last two seasons with season-ending shoulder injuries. A clean bill of health would be a welcome change, given his promising future.

The Phoenix native is a likely replacement for Marvell Tell because he’s looked the part when healthy. Pola-Mao started twice last year in lieu of Bubba Bolden, including a seven-tackle afternoon in Week 1 against UNLV. Unfortunately, his campaign ended a week later, putting the injury-prone tag on him.

Stats to know: 21

  • Who was USC’s 21st All-American? Cotton Warbuton, whose post-football life was highlighted by editing Mary Poppins, a film that received 21 motion picture award nominations, including his Oscar win.
  • The Trojans have scored 21 points a whopping 46 times in their history. Coincidently that includes a four 21-21 ties, three of which were historic. In 1968, 9-0 USC lost their chance for a second-straight national title with a 21-21 tie against No. 9 Notre Dame. The same thing happened in 1979, when the defending champs’ 21-21 draw with Stanford was the lone blemish on an undefeated season. A couple decades later in 1995, USC and Washington played to a 21-21 tie, when Brad Otton and Co. erased a 21-0 fourth quarter deficit with 21 unanswered points.
  • The 21-20 win over No. 1 UCLA in 1967 was pretty historic too. It’s arguably the most iconic in school history.
  • USC has vacated 21 victories throughout its history. It’s why the longest home winning streak is now recognized as being just 21 games, from 2001 to 2004.
  • OJ Simpson’s 163 rushing yards per game average still stands as a Pac-12 record. He did it in 21 career games.

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