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USC Football: Can You Feel the [Walk-on] Love This Season at Receiver U?

April 14, 2015

 Wide receiver JuJu Smith addresses the media after USC's spring game                                                                        Photo credit Lisa Horne



Los Angeles, California--USC has been called "Tailback U" for decades.


That moniker may change. 


Quarterbacks Cody Kessler and Max Browne lit up the scoreboard throwing for a combined 376 yards and three touchdowns at USC's annual spring game on Saturday. Kessler looked like he was in midseason form (8-of-10, 126 yards) and back-up Browne (24-of-37, 251 yards) displayed  tremendous improvement from last season, particularly on his touch.


Browne has earned the confidence of his teammates as well. Receiver JuJu Smith said if anything were to happy to Kessler, "I have trust and faith in Max Browne."


 Quarterback Max Browne                                                                                                                                                       Photo credit Lisa Horne


When told of Smith's vote of confidence, Browne was appreciative.


"That's big," he said. "Especially [coming from] a guy like JuJu, he's a huge playmaker for us." 


Smith caught nine passes for 152 yards and is clearly one of the biggest threats in the Pac-12, if not all of FBS. I asked Smith if USC was Receiver U.


He smiled broadly and replied, "Yeah.. everybody makes good plays." 


"Expectations are high," he continued.


"We came here to break records. We're trying to be Receiver U."  There was not a hint of arrogance in the tone of his voice. Rather, a buzz of excitement over the potential of this offense, especially in the passing game. And there were plenty of passes.


"The emphasis [today] was to throw the ball," head coach Steve Sarkisian said.


"We're going to run the ball well. We're dedicated to running the ball. That just wasn't the emphasis today."


Steven Mitchell caught seven passes for 90 yards including a 60-yarder and Isaac Whitney caught five for 45 yards. But it was Christian Tober who turned heads. The walk-on receiver scored the first two touchdowns of the game.  Robby Kolanz, also a walk-on, caught one pass for 20 yards.


Who are those guys? 




Whitney is from Moore, Oklahoma. After a year at Central Oklahoma, he transferred to Riverside Community College in Riverside, California. Whitney had a great spring and figures to get significent playing time this season. 


Tober is a local talent. His brother William played cornerback at USC. As a walk-on. 


Walk-ons rarely get any playing time in the regular season. They play on the scout team to prep defensive backs and quarterbacks for games. They don't get the rock star treatment.  They don't have legions of fans following them on Twitter. 


They didn't get home visits from big-named coaches. They didn't play with school hats nor bring puppies to their signing day announcement.


They didn't have a signing day announcement.


They simply showed up at school and asked to play without the benefits. They pay for their tuition, room and board. While many will argue that the system is unfair--that all players should be paid to play--there are still some who play just because they want to play the damn game. 


Tober may never hear his name over the stadium's loudspeakers again. He is probably okay with that. His family was undoubtedly in the stands beaming with pride when he scored two touchdowns.


In the Coliseum. With fans in the stand. Cheering for him.


Can you feel the love?


Smith specifically mentioned the receiver when recapping the game's highlights. "Christian Tober came out today and scored two touchdowns... early in the game. He's been doing that all practice."


Sarkisian also gave Tober a shout out. 


"I was encouraged by Steven Mitchell, Christian Tober, Isaac Whitney [and] obviously JuJu," Sarkisian said.


Pac-12 Networks color analyst Yogi Roth touted tight end Connor Spears on the air as a potential starter. Spears is a walk-on transfer from Columbia.


Roth's play-by-play announcer JB Long was also impressed with the passing game. Long made the season's first on air "Wide Receiver U" reference at the end of the game's broadcast. 


Game on.






Announced attendance was 22, 788. 


USC has 75 scholarshipped players on its roster. 


Defensive tackle Claude Pelon was not at the game due to an academic issue. Head coach Steve Sarkisian said he expected Pelon to be eligible in the fall. 


Placekicker Matt Boermeester went 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 52 yards. Alex Wood also hit 2-of-2 with a long of 51. They both wear No. 39 on their jerseys. 


Cornerback/receiver Adoree' Jackson is real fast, folks. 


Final score was Offense 37 Defense 23.




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