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O/NSO: The USC Mount Rushmore series – The Kickoff Returners

The Obvious: Kickoff returns are one of the most exciting moments in a football game, especially if the return men are exceedingly fast, possess incredible vision, and are like fearless soldiers running through a minefield.   

The Not So Obvious: Over generations, the USC Trojans have been blessed with some of the most explosive kick returners in college football history. In fact, some of their kickoff returns are burned into the lore of not only USC football but college football in general. Ask Notre Dame about famous Trojans kickoff returns.   

Before announcing our four-man Mount Rushmore of all-time kickoff returners, let’s pay homage to those kickoff returners who didn’t make our cardinal and gold mountain but are deserving of at least honorable mention recognition: Robert Woods, Ronald Johnson, Marqise Lee, Velus Jones, C.J. Gable, Lonnie White, Ken Grace, Raymond Butler, Mike Garrett, Johnny Williams, Dwight Ford, Lou Harris, Jon Arnett, Willie Brown, and Frank Strong.

Besides being a future NFL receiver, former Trojan Robert Woods (photo above) was also an outstanding USC kickoff return specialist.

You know the format, so 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 chronological group and not by what they accomplished after their playing days at Troy.

The O/NSO now presents our four-man kickoff return legends for our USC Football Mount Rushmore.

The Obvious: Anthony Davis (1972-74) was known as a Trojans legendary 1974 consensus All-American tailback, but he is statistically and arguably the greatest kickoff return specialist in Trojans history.

Trojans legendary tailback Anthony Davis (photo above on right) was also a legendary kickoff return demon.

The Not So Obvious: Anthony (5-9, 183) was a tremendous quarterback and highly decorated prep All-American recruit out of San Fernando (Calif.) High but was converted to tailback upon his arrival at Troy. You may not know this, but Davis could also handle kicking off and kickoff returns, a testament to his overall football skills.  

During Anthony’s three-year Trojans’ career, his teams combined for a 31-2-2 record. He was the starting tailback and kickoff return specialist on two national title teams (1972 and 1974) and helped Troy capture three consecutive conference titles (1972, 1973, 1974).

Nicknamed “AD”, Anthony was a two-time first-team All-Conference selection (1973-74) as a tailback. He was also a Heisman Trophy runnerup in 1974.

For his career as a kickoff return artist, AD ran back 40 kickoffs for 1361 yards (34.0 avg.) and electrified the fans with six touchdown returns.  

Anthony Davis (photo above) became an instant kickoff return legend against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

Following his senior season, Anthony was selected to play in the 1975 Hula Bowl.

After his USC career, Anthony was drafted in the fifth round of the 1975 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams.

In 1999, Anthony was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 2005, AD was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

In the videos below, Anthony (No. 28) plays against Notre Dame in the legendary 1972 game, and in video No. 2, again against Notre Dame in the legendary 1974 comeback game against the Irish. Although he scored a total of 11 touchdowns against ND, it was those devastating kickoff returns in both games that still make Irish fans angry although it has been 46 years since that last electrifying kickoff TD return.  

The Obvious: Curtis Lamont Conway (1990-92) was a 1992 All-America wide receiver and return specialist.

Curtis Conway (photo above) was one of the most feared kickoff returners during his playing days at USC.

The Not So Obvious: Curtis (6-2, 180) was recruited out of Hawthorne (Calif.) High, where he was a magnificent and unstoppable quarterback.

During Curtis Conway’s three football teams at USC, the Men of Troy were a  combined 17-17-2 and played in the 1990 John Hancock Bowl and the 1992 Freedom Bowl.  

During his three-season Trojans career as an exceptional wide receiver and return specialist – both as a kickoff and punt return demon – Curtis was known as “Comet” for his speed and moves. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 Return Specialist selection (1991-1992).

In 1991 and 1992, Curtis was named the Trojans team MVP.

Curtis Conway (photo above) ranks No. 2 in kickoff return yardage (1723), averaging 23.60 yards per return.

In 1990, Comet had 26 kickoff returns for 555 yards.

In 1991, Curtis had 20 kickoff returns for 493 yards.

In 1992, the man who wore jersey No. 3 had 27 kick returns for 675 yards and one touchdown.

For his career, Curtis had 73 kickoff returns for 1723 yards (23.6 avg.) and one touchdown.

At the conclusion of his USC service, which meant leaving Troy after his junior season, Curtis was selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round (7th overall pick) of the 1993 NFL Draft.

In the video below, Curtis (No. 3) plays in the 1992 USC/UCLA game.

The Obvious: Rodney Jay “R. Jay” Soward (1996-1999) was truly a spectacular kickoff return artist for the Men of Troy and a dynamic wide receiver.

R. Jay Soward (photo above) was about as explosive as any Trojans kickoff return artist.

The Not So Obvious: R. Jay (5-11, 175) arrived at Troy from Fontana (Calif.) High, where he was a celebrated high school recruit.  

During his four-year USC career, R. Jay’s Trojans teams were a combined 26-22-0, and he played in the 1998 Sun Bowl.

For his Trojans career, R. Jay accounted for 56 kickoff returns for 1414 yards (25.25 avg.) and three touchdowns.

R. Jay Soward (photo above) ranks No. 3 in kickoff return touchdowns, having taken three kickoff returns to the house.

After his USC career, R. Jay was a first-round draft pick (29th overall selection) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2000 NFL Draft.

In the video below, R. Jay (No. 18) displays his talents as a freshman against UCLA.

The Obvious: Adoree’ Jackson (2014-16) was a 2016 consensus All-American and the Trojans second Jim Thorpe Award recipient as the nation’s best secondary player. However, during his USC career, Adoree’ was also considered one of the most dangerous special teams return players in the country, both as a kickoff return man and a punt returner.  

Adoree’ Jackson (photo above) ranks No. 1 in USC history in kickoff return yardage (2141 yds.).

The Not So Obvious: Adoree’ (5-11, 185) was a Prep All-American from Gardena (Calif.) Serra High. 

During his three seasons at Troy, Adoree’s USC teams were a combined 27-13.

Adoree’ was a two-time All-Pac-12 selection (2015-16) and was named a 2016 USC team captain and was also the Trojans’ team MVP in 2015 and 2016.

In his three-season career returning kickoffs, Adoree returned 79 kickoffs for 2141 yards (27.1 avg.) and four touchdowns. One of those TD kickoff returns was a 100-yard dagger. 

Adoree’ Jackson (photo above) ranks No. 2 in USC career touchdown kickoff returns with four scores.

While at Troy, Adoree’ appeared in the 2014 and 2015 Holiday Bowl and the 2017 Rose Bowl.

Once his USC career was completed by going early to the pros, Adoree’ was drafted in the first round (16th pick) of the 2017 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans.

The video below is a collection of Adoree’ Jackson (No. 2) highlights, which begins with one of his vintage kickoff returns.

The Obvious: And finally, selecting a four-man Mount Rushmore for kickoff return specialist was actually not all that taxing.  

The Not So Obvious: Next Friday, we’ll release our four-man Mount Rushmore punt returners.

Below are the 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/

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

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

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

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



Greg Katz
Author
Greg Katz

Now in his 58th 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 staff writer 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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