Although the Trojans’ football roster is consistently filled with talented players in every position, a true freshman can still find his way onto the field and perform on the biggest of stages.
This season, USC has seen breakout performances from multiple true freshmen, including quarterback Kedon Slovis, defensive end Drake Jackson and cornerback Chris Steele.
Slovis emerged as USC’s starting quarterback after an injury to sophomore JT Daniels opened up an opportunity for him to see the field. His breakout performance came against Stanford in Week 2, where he threw for 377 yards, 3 touchdowns and earned both Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.
Slovis has missed time due to a concussion he suffered vs Utah in Week 4. However, he is set to lead USC into its rivalry game against No. 9 Notre Dame after being cleared to play earlier this week.
Slovis’ play has electrified USC’s fanbase and drawn the attention of opposing teams.
“He's been really, really good — shows savvy and poise," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. "[Slovis has] very good arm talent. He can throw the ball all over the field, and he's extremely accurate, throwing it over 70% completion…so we'll certainly be prepared.”
The Scottsdale, Ariz. native has proven he’s worthy to play among the best college football has to offer.
Defensively, Jackson dominated USC’s spring football after graduating a semester early from Centennial High School in Corona, Calif. His performance in the spring landed him the starting defensive end spot alongside redshirt senior Chrisitan Rector.
"I like the way he moves,” USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pandergast said. “He's been physical in the running game and he shows the ability to transition and rush against tackles in the passing game. He reminds me a lot of [Cameron] Jordan, who I coached at Cal, [and] Leonard Williams, who we had [at USC]."
With so much defensive production coming from this rookie, it’s no wonder why he’s being compared to former college stars and NFL players. Jackson has thrived in the starting role, combining for 22 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble through five games.
Steele’s steady improvement has been largely under the radar, but the five-star recruit brings upside to USC’s young secondary. Despite rotating snaps through the first five games of the season, he’s totaled 12 tackles, two deflected passes and one fumble recovery.
Also in the secondary is freshman defensive back Max Williams, who made his Trojan debut versus Washington in Week 5, filling in after redshirt sophomore cornerback Greg Johnson received a team suspension. Williams posted two total tackles, one sack and a forced fumble in Seattle.
"[Williams] is a very football instinctive kid," USC head coach Clay Helton said. "He's that Ajene Harris, Nickell Robey [Coleman] type of player that's so football instinctive and plays even faster than he is."
With an impressive start to his USC career, Williams is one of the many talented freshmen waiting for opportunities to play.
Rounding out USC’s freshman contributors are backups Britton Allen, Ralen Goforth and Drake London, all of whom have now burned their redshirts for the season.
With redshirting no longer an option for these true freshmen, look for them to continue to make big contributions and provide depth to USC’s young, talented roster.