The Mount Rushmore of USC football wide receivers includes historic forerunners, phenomenal playmakers, and iconic figures.
While Heritage Hall is adorned with Heisman Trophies earned by some of the best tailbacks college football has ever seen, another position group is staking its claim as the bread and butter of modern USC football.
Since the departure of Reggie Bush and LenDale White, it has been USC’s receivers, not its running backs, that have garnered national acclaim for their dominance on the field.
Before watching another talented corps of wideouts take the field for the Trojans in 2020, let’s take a look at the Mount Rushmore of USC receivers…
The easiest place to begin is with the Trojans’ best receiver of the 1990s: Keyshawn Johnson. The Los Angeles native took the Pac-10 by storm in 1994 after a tumultuous beginning to his collegiate career at West Los Angeles College.
Johnson caught 66 passes for 1362 yards to average a staggering 20.6 yards per catch for the Trojans against nine ranked teams in 12 games. He scored nine total touchdowns and capped off the year with a dominant performance against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. His eight catches for 222 yards and three touchdowns earned him co-MVP honors in USC’s 55-14 drubbing of the Red Raiders.
After receiving third-team AP All-American honors, Johnson was considered a lock to be one of the first three receivers taken in the 1995 NFL draft but that wasn’t good enough for the outspoken receiver. In an interview with Sean Waters of the Los Angeles Times, Johnson explained his decision to return to school in no uncertain terms. He said, “Someone asked me the other day, ‘Who you wanna play for?’ I said whoever has the worst season in the NFL next year. That’s all I care about. I want to be the No. 1 pick.”
Despite dealing with two different quarterbacks following Rob Johnson’s departure to the NFL, Johnson put together another All-American season in 1995. He caught 36 more passes than the year prior for a total of 102 with seven touchdowns and 1434 receiving yards.
At 8-2-1, USC earned a trip to the Rose Bowl against No. 3 Northwestern, and once again Johnson shined the brightest on college football’s biggest stage. He terrorized the Wildcats’ secondary for 216 yards, a Rose Bowl record, on twelve catches and earned player of the game honors in his second-straight bowl game.
Johnson was a unanimous first-team All-American and declared for the NFL draft after the 1995 season having amassed 168 catches for 2796 yards and 16 touchdowns in two seasons for Troy.
Four months later, Johnson was the first-round selection of the New York Jets, who happened to have the NFL’s worst record in 1995.