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O/NSO: The USC Mount Rushmore series – The Inside Linebackers

The Obvious: Over the storied history of USC defensive football, the cardinal and gold have had their share of outstanding inside linebackers. This week’s four-man Mount Rushmore highlights the four inside linebackers we feel deserve to be on that sacred cardinal and gold mountain.

The Not So Obvious: Selecting the top four inside linebackers wasn’t all that hard, but there seems to be a pattern to our selections. It’s always challenging when we get to the fourth and final candidate for our Mount Rushmore. Selecting the enforcers in the middle was no different.   

Before we release our four-man O/NSO Mount Rushmore of inside linebackers, we’d first like to recognize some of the standout inside linebackers that truly deserved consideration: Damon Bame, Charles Anthony, Bob Jensen, Jim Snow, Kevin Bruce, Dennis Johnson, Scott Ross, Lofa Tatupu, Rey Maualuga, and Cameron Smith.

Dennis Johnson (photo above) was a USC Trojans All-American inside linebacker in 1979, who came to Troy from Flint, Michigan.

Feel free to differ from our selections and inform us of your own selections on the Garry P. WeAreSC message board. A reminder, our selections are not ranked in order of greatness but as a group and not by what they accomplished after their playing days at USC.

The O/NSO now presents our four inside linebackers for the O/NSO’s USC Football Mount Rushmore.

The Obvious: Matthew “Adrian” Young (1965-67) was a 1967 consensus All-America inside linebacker.

Adrian Young (photo above) was a 1967 USC All-American and a team captain on the 1967 USC National Champions.

The Not So Obvious: Born in Dublin, Ireland, Adrian (6-1, 232) came to Troy from La Puente (Calif.) Bishop Amat High, a traditional USC pipeline for football talent.

During Adrian’s USC career, his Trojans teams combined record was 24-7-1.

Note: There were no career stats listed in the 2019 USC Football Media Guide for Adrian Young with the exception of career interceptions (7).

A three-year letterman, Adrian was a starter and co-captain on USC’s 1967 national championship team and participated in two Rose Bowls. He was also a first team 1967 All-AAWU selection.

In his USC career, Adrian had seven interceptions, including four picks at Notre Dame in the 1967 Trojans 24-7 upset of the Irish. The four interceptions against ND tied a Pac-10 record.

Adrian Young (photo above – No. 50) had four interceptions in the Trojans 1967 upset of the Irish in South Bend.

In 1967, Adrian also won the Davis-Teschke Award as the Trojans’ Most Inspirational Player.

After his senior season, Adrian was selected to play in the Coaches All-America Game, College All-Star Game, and the Hula Bowl.

Following graduation, Adrian was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the third round (68th overall pick) of the 1968 NFL Draft, and he played for the Eagles for five seasons (1968 to 1972). He played part of the 1972 NFL season for the Detroit Lions, and then in 1973 played his final NFL season with the Chicago Bears. During his six NFL seasons, Adrian appeared in 52 regular season games, and started 24 of them.

In 2012, Adrian was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

The first video below is Adrian Young’s four interception performance in 1967 at Notre Dame. Adrian is wearing No. 50. The video does not contain sound, but it’s still a good view of the Trojans game. Yes, the running back for Troy that day was was O.J. Simpson (No. 32) and the SC quarterback is Steve Sogge (No. 10). In the second video, Adrian speaks for the 1967 national champions in a team reunion at a Salute to Troy celebration.

The Obvious: Richard Marlon Wood (1972-74) was USC’s first three-time All-American, a consensus choice in 1973 and 1974.

Legendary inside linebacker Richard “Batman” Wood (photo above) was a three-time USC Trojans All-American (1972, 1973, 1974).

The Not So Obvious: Nicknamed “Batman”, Richard (6-2, 213) was recruited out of Elizabeth (NJ) Thomas Jefferson High.

A true USC legend, not only was Richard a three-time All-American, he was also the first 3-year selectee by the AP from the West Coast.

In his three-year career at SC, Richard’s teams went a combined 31-2-2.

The storied Wood was a starter on the 1972 and 1974 USC National Champions, as well as a three-time first team All-Pac-8 selection. He was a team captain for the 1974 Trojans.

During his three-seasons USC career, Richard appeared in three Rose Bowls with the Trojans winning two against Ohio State (1972 and 1974) and losing to the Buckeyes in 1973.

In his senior season, Richard had 89 tackles and five pass deflections.   

From Elizabeth, New Jersey, inside linebacker Richard Wood (photo above) was a key member of two USC National Championship Teams (1972 and 1974).

Prior to the 1973 season, Richard was selected to the Playboy Preseason All-America team.  

After the 1974 season, Richard played in the 1975 Hula Bowl, College All-Star Game, and Senior Bowl.

Following his USC career, Richard was taken by the New York Jets in the third round of the 1975 NFL Draft but was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 where he was reunited with former Trojans coach John McKay, who had left USC to become the first coach of the expansion Buccaneers.

In 2003, “Batman” was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 2007, Richard was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame.

In 2015, No. 83 was named to the Pac-12 All-Century Team.

Following his football career, Richard went on to coach in Europe and later became a high school coach in Florida, where he was named that state’s 2002 Florida Coach of the Year.    

In the full NBC game video replay below, Richard Wood (No. 83) helps lead the Trojans to a dramatic 18-17 victory over Ohio State, which gave USC its seventh national championship.

The Obvious: William “Clay” Matthews Jr. (1974-77) was a consensus 1977 All-American inside linebacker.

Clay Matthews (photo above) was a super All-America inside linebacker for the Trojans in 1977.

The Not So Obvious: Clay (6-2, 235) came to USC as a Parade High School All-American from New Tier (Ill.) East HS.

Clay, who was born in Palo Alto, Calif., was a starter on the 1977 USC national champions and one of its team captains.

During his four-year USC career, Clay’s Trojans teams were a combined 37-10-1, and he appeared in the 1975 and 1977 Rose Bowl Games, the 1975 Liberty Bowl, and the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl.

Clay was a two-time first team All-Pac-8 choice at middle linebacker in 1976 and 1977.

During his career, No. 60 accounted for 266 tackles, four deflections, two interceptions, and three fumble recoveries.

After his senior season, Clay played in the 1978 Hula Bowl.     

Clay Matthews (photo above – No. 60) was not only a physically great middle linebacker but was a student of the game.

Following his USC career, Clay was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1978 NFL Draft with the 12th overall pick. He played in 13 NFL seasons from 1977 to 1989 and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

Clay was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Clay is also the father of former USC linebacking great Clay lll (2005-2008).

In the video below, inside linebacker Clay Matthews (No. 60) helps the Trojans to a 1977 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.

The Obvious: Christopher “Chris” Ashton Claiborne (1996-98) was a 1998 consensus All-American and the Trojans only Butkus Award winner, which is given to the nation’s best linebacker.  

Chris Claiborne (photo above) is the Trojans only Butkus Award winner as the nations’ top linebacker and was a consensus 1998 All-America. Chris has returned to USC to be part of the 2020 Trojans football program.

The Not So Obvious: Chris (6-3, 250), a prep All-American product out of Riverside (Calif.) North High, was not only a great high school linebacker but also a physical running back. Chris was also a force on the basketball court.

During his three seasons at USC, Chris’s teams were a combined 20-16.

As well as being a unanimous 1998 College All-American, Chris was also the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year, as well as a two-time All-Conference first team selection (1997 and 1998).

In his three-season career, Chris accounted for 312 tackles, 27 tackles for losses, 23 deflections, eight interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. He also had two defensive touchdowns.

During his final season at Troy in 1998, Chris was USC’s team MVP.

While at Troy, No. 55 appeared in the 1998 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas..

Many believe that Chris Claiborne (photo above – No. 55) is the greatest USC linebacker in its storied history.

Following his collegiate career, Chris was selected by the Detroit Lions in the first round (ninth pick overall) of the 1999 NFL Draft, and he played for the Lions from 1999 to 2002.

In 2015, Chris was selected to the All-Pac-12 All-Century Team, and in 2018, he was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 2020, this legendary Trojans middle linebacker, after being a successful local head high school football coach, was welcomed back to the USC campus as part of Clay Helton’s staff as an offensive quality control administrator.   

The two videos below show Chris (No. 55) and USC at Florida State in 1998, and the second video is Chris’s USC Athletic Hall of Fame induction speech.

The Obvious: And finally, you have to admit, this is a pretty impressive quartet of inside linebacking superstars, whose accolades certainly warranted being part of the O/NSO Mount Rushmore of inside linebackers.  

The Not So Obvious: Next Friday, we’ll release our four-man Mount Rushmore outside linebackers, and there were certainly a large number of star-studded candidates.

Below are links to previous O/NSO USC Football Mount Rushmore position selections:

The head coach: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-football-mount-rushmore-series-edition-presenting-the-immortal-head-coaches/ 

The quarterbacks: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-quarterbacks/  

The running backs: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-tailbacks/  

The wide receivers: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-wide-receviers/

The fullbacks: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-fullbacks/

The offensive tackles: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-offensive-tackles/

The offensive guards: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-offensive-guards/

The centers: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-centers/

The tight ends: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-tight-ends/

The defensive linemen: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-defensive-linemen/

The standup defensive ends: https://wearesc.com/o-nso-the-usc-mount-rushmore-series-the-standup-defensive-ends/

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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