15 days to USC football: Talanoa Hufanga and Drake London have huge potential

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

The countdown to USC football’s season opener continues with Reign of Troy’s series looking at each Trojan jersey number. Today that’s No. 15.

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USC football’s 2019 season is only 15 days away.

While the wait to see the Trojans take the field against Fresno State on August 31 has been long, we at Reign of Troy are hoping to fill the hours with some interesting history.

What is there to know about the No. 15 jersey? Quite a bit:

Who wore it best?

When Nelson Agholor put on the No. 15, it was one of the numbers which don’t appear on USC’s All-American wall. He changed that.

The receiver and devastating return man was a playmaker, pure and simple. His three years of production put him eighth all-time in receptions and seven all-time in punt returns. He is the only Trojan in history to rank in the Top 10 in both categories.

Playing third fiddle to Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, Agholor announced himself in his second week of action in 2012, catching three passes for 77 yards against Stanford. Weeks later he exploded for six catches and 162 yards against Oregon.

Those were signs of things to come. In 2013 he led USC in receiving. He’d do the same in 2014, while rising to Biletnikoff Award finalist status and drawing All-American acclaim.

“Nelson isn’t good at just one factor of the game,” quarterback Cody Kessler told the Los Angeles Times. “He can run the deep ball…he can also do the short game, do the quick game, be physical over the middle. It results in him getting a lot of catches.”

A lot of catches added up to 104 in his junior season, accounting for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s the third-best receiving season in USC history.

All the while, Agholor established himself as one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous punt returners. His two-touchdown performance against Cal in 2013 earned him national player of the week accolades. He’d add two more touchdowns on returns in 2014 to claim the USC record in that category. Though Adoree’ Jackson tied it in 2016, Agholor still owns a share.

The record for highest punt return average in a season of 19.1 yards is his alone.

No other Trojans have achieved All-American, yet alone all-conference status while wearing No. 15, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been USC greats in the jersey.

Craig Fertig led the Trojans as a quarterback as well as a captain in 1964.

He was voted USC’s most inspirational player that year and it’s easy to see why. Against Cal he engineered a late comeback, tossing a game-winning touchdown pass to Rod Sherman in the final minute to cap a 95-yard drive.

A few weeks later Fertig again led a remarkable comeback, this time against Notre Dame. Trailing 17-0 at halftime, the quarterback hit Sherman for a touchdown with just over 90 seconds to play, besting the top-ranked Irish.

Another inspiration wore No. 15. That was Russ Saunders, who was given the Davis-Teschke Award for 1929.

Saunders was part of the backfield which won USC’s their first ever national title that year, usually lining up at fullback though he was also considered a capable quarterback.

The next season, after being shifted to quarterback full time, he led the Trojans in rushing and scoring en route to a Rose Bowl appearance. His first three passes resulted in touchdowns against Pittsburgh and the Trojans romped to a 47-14 victory.

Saunders had an indomitable will. Initially too small to play high school football, he worked a night job after school digging ditches then came home and completed a set of exercises given to him by coaches to bulk up.

The result was a powerful set of shoulders which helped make him an impressive blocker.

Those shoulders have been immortalized at the center of USC’s campus. Saunders head, chest and shoulders provided the model for the Tommy Trojan statue.

“His case is one showing what a boy can do toward building his physique if he has the heart to stick to the job,” a columnist in the Arizona Daily Star wrote in 1928.

Who wears it now?

Safety Talanoa Hufanga has all the tools to be the next Trojan great to wear No. 15.

He started five games as a true freshman in 2018, revealing a top-level football instinct to go along with elite athleticism. In eight games of action, he amassed 51 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and four deflections.

Unfortunately a broken collarbone ended his first year early, but he returns in 2019 healthy and in line to start at safety once more.

He has more starts under his belt than anyone in the USC secondary, so he will have to be a leader in that spot. There is no reason to doubt his ability to do just that.

On the opposite side of the field, the Trojans may have found another mouthwatering athlete for the receiving corps in Drake London.

London was a coveted basketball recruit as well as a four-star football prospect. His two-sport skills have been visible already on the practice field for USC in Fall Camp. Given extra opportunities because of injuries, he has shown an ability to play both inside and outside, using his 6-foot-5 frame to make impressive grabs.

The strong Fall Camp performance has him set up to contribute as a true freshman and the future looks bright indeed.

The list of No. 15’s on USC’s roster for 2019 doesn’t end there, surprisingly enough. Former walk-on quarterback Thomas Fitts has made the switch to special teams, serving as a placekicker.

Stats to know: 15

  • Center Stan Williamson was USC’s 15th ever All-American in 1931.
  • All-American end Marlin McKeever had 15 catches for 218 yards in 1960.
  • All-American wide receiver Robert Woods had 15 touchdowns during his then-record-setting 2011 season.
  • All-American wide receiver Marqise Lee had 15 career 100-yard receiving games. Those games helped him surpass Woods in 2012.
  • Wide receivers Kareem Kelly and Damien Williamsscored 15 touchdowns in his career.
  • Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Adoree’ Jackson scored 15 touchdowns including receptions, punt returns, kickoff returns and interception returns during his Trojan career.
  • Three Trojans have led USC in tackles for loss with 15: Chip Banks in 1980, Marcus Cotton in 1985 and Su’a Cravens in 2015.
  • Three Trojans have led USC in deflections with 15: Artimus Parker in 1973, Dwayne Garner in 1989 and Ifeanyi Ohalete in 1999 and
  • USC scored 15 points in the final quarter of the 1975 Rose Bowl to best Ohio State 18-17.
  • The Trojans had 15 total yards in the first half of the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl, which they lost to Utah, 10-6.
  • The defense had 15 tackles for loss against Illinois in the 2008 Rose Bowl.
  • USC was down by 15 points in the third quarter against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl. The 17-point comeback to win was the largest in Rose Bowl history.

Next. 16 Days to Kickoff