4 days to USC football: Kevin Ellison, Joe McKnight underrated and gone too soon

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

Reign of Troy’s countdown to USC football’s 2019 season continues with the No. 4, a jersey with an underrated and unfortunately tragic history.

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There are just four more days until USC football returns!

The Trojans will take on Fresno State at the Coliseum this Saturday, but the time has not yet arrived for kickoff. That means there is time to reflect on the No. 4 jersey.

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Here’s a look…

Who wore it best?

There are only two jerseys from No. 1 to No. 20 that have never been worn by an All-American Trojan. Those are No. 18 and No. 4.

That’s not to say No. 4 hasn’t produced All-American level players. On offense and defense, two of the brightest, and underappreciated, players of the century wore the number. Unfortunately, Kevin Ellison and Joe McKnight have more than that in common.

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Ellison was a maker of All-Americans at safety. While Taylor Mays was showered with national acclaim,  Ellison provided the foundation in the secondary for him to thrive.

He also set the tone for USC on defense. Most memorably, he laid down the law with a devastating hit on Cal wide receiver Desean Jackson in 2006. Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times said that hit “reverberated throughout that game and seemed to carry over” into the Trojans victory against Notre Dame.

Sadly, Ellison is no longer around to watch the next generation of big hitters in the USC secondary. After struggling for years with mental illness, he was struck and killed by a car in October of 2018. He was 31.

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Tragedy also befell McKnight. In December of 2016, the former running back was shot and killed during a road rage incident in Louisiana. He was 28.

Before his death, McKnight delivered three electric years in the No. 4 as a Trojan.

Always compared to the legend of Reggie Bush, it was near impossible for McKnight to live up to the hype as the nation’s No. 1 prospect in the 2007 recruiting class. Still, he had his moments.

In the 2008 Rose Bowl, McKnight racked up 206 all-purpose yards, including a 65-yard gain after a bobbled lateral.

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His homerun hitting ability out of the backfield was clear. In 2007 and 2008 he posted the longest runs from scrimmage for the Trojans, going 59 and 55 yards respectively.

After two seasons of solid contributions, he led USC in rushing in 2009 with 1,014 yards.

His career rushing average of 6.38 yards per carry is still the second best in Trojan history behind only Bush.

During USC’s epic Rose Bowl victory in 2017, running back Ronald Jones II wore No. 4 to honor McKnight.

Who wears it now?

The No. 4 was being worn by cornerback Olaijah Griffin, but he traded it in during Fall Camp for the No. 2. That means walk-on quarterback Trevor Scully is the lone occupant for the number in 2019.

Stats to know: 4

  • Tackle Jess Hibbs was USC’s fourth ever All-American in 1927. He was also the Trojans fifth the next year.
  • USC has had four Heisman Trophy runners up, including O.J. Simpson in 1967, Anthony Davis in 1974, Ricky Bell in 1976 and Rodney Peete in 1988.
  • USC won the 1939 Rose Bowl thanks to the unlikely contribution of fourth-string QB Doyle Nave, who completed his only four passes after coming off the bench in the final minutes of the game, including a 19-yard touchdown, to put the Trojans ahead of Duke.
  • USC’s first ever 100-yard receiving game was achieved by Ralph Heywood, who gained 101 yards on four catches in 1943.
  • Linebacker Adrian Young, an Irishman, tied a conference record with four interceptions against Notre Dame in 1967.
  • Anthony Davis scored four touchdowns against Notre Dame in 1974.
  • The Trojans appeared in four consecutive Rose Bowls from 1967 to 1970, then repeated that feat from 2006 to 2009.
  • In 1989, USC topped Washington State when Todd Marinovich hit Ricky Everins for a touchdown with four seconds left on the clock and then converted the winning two-point conversion.
  • In 1990, USC got away with a tie against Cal, 31-31, when Bear kicker Robbie Keen missed a field goal attempt with four seconds to go.
  • The 1990 rivalry tilt between USC and UCLA included four lead changes in the fourth quarter, with USC ultimately prevailing 45-42.
  • In 2001, Carlson Palmer scored a game-winning touchdown against Oregon State on a four-yard bootleg in overtime.
  • Safety Troy Polamalu blocked four punts in his Trojan career from 1999 to 2002.
  • The 2005 Orange Bowl feature four of the Heisman Trophy finalists from 2004, including Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, Jason White and Adrian Peterson.
  • John David Booty tossed a Rose Bowl record four touchdowns to lead USC past Michigan in the 2007 Rose Bowl.
  • Mark Sanchez matched Booty’s Rose Bowl touchdown tally with four touchdowns in USC’s victory over Penn State in the 2009 Rose Bowl.
  • In 2009, USC held on for victory over Notre Dame thanks to four goal line defensive stands.
  • Robert Wood tied a Pac-12 record with four touchdown catches against Colorado with 2012.
  • The 2013 Trojan squad had four different head coaches during the course of the season: Lane Kiffin, who was replaced by interim Ed Orgeron, who was replaced by interim Clay Helton who was holding the place for the incoming Steve Sarkisian.
  • Nelson Agholor returned four punts for touchdowns in his career from 2012 to 2014.
  • Adoree’ Jackson scored touchdowns in four different ways for USC, with receiving, punt return, kick return and interception return scores. Four of those were on punts and four were on kickoffs.

Next. 5 Days to Kickoff