LOS ANGELES -- With spring practice approaching, the new Trojans football staff will be looking for the kind of performer that sends a message to the other team, an intimidator if you will.
New Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will, no doubt, be searching for a defender(s) who goes beyond just rattling the cage of the offense, but an athlete who sends a message that the worst is yet to come.
The current Trojans defense may have one such player in sophomore ESPN All-American Leonard Williams, the monster from Daytona Beach, Fla., who USC athletic director Pat Haden has already anointed one of the top 10 players he has ever seen play at Troy, either as a player or as the AD.
The question now becomes is there an enforcer besides the aforementioned Williams whom Wilcox will uncover during spring ball, which beings the second week in March?
As a public service, Wilcox might want to check out our list of defensive enforcers over the seasons as a starting point in helping find that “baddest dude” on the cardinal and gold block.
In no particular order, here are the historical Dirty Dozen of defensive “enforcers” that no Trojans opponent wanted to see:
LB Rey Maualuga (2005-08): As intimidating a presence as anybody stepping off the Trojans team bus, one won’t soon forget when he (6-2, 260) provided one of the most all-time intimidating hits when he blew up former UCLA quarterback Patrick Cowan in 2007 on national television. He was one bad actor when it came to setting the tone of a game.
SS Troy Polamalu (1999-2002): USC has never had another quite like Polamalu (5-10, 215). An under-the-radar high school recruit, his play raised the entire demeanor of the defense. He continued his trade in the NFL and will go down with the great ones.
DB Ronnie Lott (1977-80): The consummate performer in the secondary, Lott (6-2, 200) brought the pain. He was absolutely one of college football’s all-time hitters. There are players that play without fear; Lott was born without fear.
LB Chris Claiborne (1996-98): The Trojans only Butkus Award winner (1998) as the nation’s top linebacker, one could argue that Claiborne (6-3, 250) is USC’s greatest linebacker ever. In a 4-3 defense, this middle linebacker is one of the very few that could control the opposition’s offense through his athletic and intimidating style. Claiborne singlehandedly kept the Trojans in a 1998 game at Florida State.
LB Riki Gray/Ellison (1978-82): Former Trojans linebacker coach Artie Gigantino once said that “those two guys are crazy,” when referring to Gray and a fellow linebacker teammate. Gray (6-2, 220) had the sense of finding the ball carrier and delivering a message not soon forgotten. He had absolutely no regard for his own body or his opponents. He had a style all his own, and it was wicked.
LB Chip Banks (1978-81): One of the great recruits from the South (Atlanta), Banks (6-5, 230) was the other half of Gigantino’s “those two guys are crazy” assessment. Banks was the Trojans’ team captain in 1981 and just had this look in his glazed eyes. His stare was like that of a menacing galactic robot. Playing both inside and outside linebacker during his playing days at USC, he was a two-time all-conference performer and a 1981 All-American.
OLB Charlie Weaver (1969-70): Just on his name alone, Weaver (6-2, 214) would have been singled out, but the fact he was a violent performer coming off the edge in a 5-2 defense was his own special domain. There have been many hits of intimidation over the decades, but Weaver’s running-start collision against UCLA quarterback Dennis Dummit in 1969 remains an all-time classic. It ranks right up there with Maualuga’s hit on Cowan. Weaver’s Hall of Fame smash on Dummit can be seen in almost any USC historical football footage.
OLB Jimmy Gunn (1967-69): Another Trojan with a name to build a legend around, Gunn (6-1, 210) was lightning quick playing what was then called defensive end. It could be argued that Gunn was one of the major leaders of the original 1969 Wild Bunch. Gunn, however, might be best remembered as a sophomore when he played against UCLA in the classic 1967 game. On torn knee ligaments, he delivered a late-game sack on eventual UCLA Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Gary Beban to preserve the 21-20 victory. Gunn’s courage and savage play against the Bruins is folklore stuff.
FS Mark Carrier (1987-89): A local prep legend out of Long Beach Poly High, Carrier transferred his physical and ferocious style of play to the Trojans. Although not physically intimidating by size (6-1, 185), there wasn’t a receiver in the country that wanted to run across the middle to meet Mr. Carrier. The Trojans lone Thorpe Award winner (1989) as the nations’ finest defensive back, Carrier was like a human hypodermic needle on impact. It you wanted to see fear in a receiver’s eyes and sweat flying out of his helmet, just watch some of Carrier’s most devastating tackles.
DE Junior Seau (1988-89): Before there was the intimidation of Maualuga, there was Seau, the original No. 55. Not only was Seau big (6-3, 245), but the late linebacker was a monster between the sidelines. Junior left many Coliseum fans speechless after his assaults on the opposition’s offense. If new defensive coordinator Wilcox wants to show the freshmen Trojans just what a defensive Trojans football player looks like, he need only whip out some video of the great Seau.
DE Tim Rossovich (1965-67): A man’s man who was larger than life (6-5, 235) during his time period. A stand-up 5-2 defensive end, there is a picture of Rossovich in a 1967 game program that pretty much sums it up. It looks like pure rage and intensity. Rossovich and teammate Mike Battle, an All-American safety, were legendary in their exploits not only on the field but also on fraternity row. A 1967 consensus All-American, he was an enforcer at the highest level.
RE/FB/LB Marlin McKeever (1958-60): A throwback to two-way football, McKeever hit anything that moved on either side of the ball. What makes this intimidator (6-1, 230) all the more impressive is that he was not only a three-time all-conference selection, but he was also a 1959 academic All-American. A member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame, McKeever would be a player of fear in any generation, and his work on defense in the NFL is well documented.
There are obviously others that could be added to this list, but there is little argument that the above don’t belong.
The question: Who’s up next?