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

The Obvious: Punt returns – like kickoff returns – can bring a stadium to its feet, and the USC Trojans have had their share of talented punt returners that have brought fans out of their collective Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum seats in unabashed excitement.

The Not So Obvious: When selecting a USC four-man group of punt returners, you could just look at the top 20 returners in terms of total return yardage. However, in our selecting four returners for this elite group, the O/NSO had to look at average yards per return, number of attempts, and how many touchdowns scored. These selected returners each had their own style of punt return savvy and results.

Before announcing our four-man O/NSO Mount Rushmore of all-time punt returners, let’s recognize those returners who didn’t make our four-man list but are deserving of high honorable mention recognition: Lynn Swann, Johnny Williams, Nelson Agholor, Jim Sears, Mike Garrett, Raymond Butler, Danny Reece, and Jon Arnett.

Nelson Agholor (photo above) once had two touchdown punt returns in a single game at Cal.

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-man punt return legends, which includes bowl game performances, for our USC Football Mount Rushmore.

The Obvious: Michael Leonard “Mike” Battle (1966-68), a graduate of Lawndale (Calif.) High and Long Beach (Calif.) City College, was a 1968 All-American defensive back, but his fearlessness as a punt returner is legendary.

The Not So Obvious: For his size, Mike Battle (6-1, 170) had absolutely no fear when it came to being an all-star defensive back and a punt returner.

During his time at Troy, Mike’s Trojans teams had a combined 26-6-1 record, and he was a star on John McKay’s legendary 1967 national championship team. He also played in three Rose Bowls (1967, 1968, 1969).

Mike is second on USC’s career punt return list (1014 yards). He set USC season records for most punt returns (49 in 1967, a Pac-10 record) and punt return yards (608 in 1967).

One of the most fearless punt returners in USC history, Mike Battle (photo above – No. 17) had no problem hurdling would-be tacklers, which became his punt return calling card.

In two of his three seasons with the Trojans, Mike had at least one punt return for a touchdown. In 1967, Mike returned two punts for scores.

For his punt return career at Troy, Mike, known as “Razor”, had 99 punt returns for 1014 yards (10.2 avg.) and three touchdowns.

After his playing days at Troy were completed, Mike was drafted in the 13th round by the New York Jets and played two seasons in New York. Mike also did some work in the movies, as he appeared in the movie C.C. and Company (1970) in the role of Rabbit, which starred then starting quarterback of the New York Jets Joe Namath.

As an added note, Mike’s uncle, Art Battle, lettered at halfback for the Trojans in 1946-48-49.

In the video below, Mike Battle (No. 17) shows his skills as both a punt returner and a safety in the legendary 1967 USC/UCLA game.

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

Curtis Conway (photo above) was not only an O/NSO Mount Rushmore punt returner but a Mount Rushmore selection as a kickoff returner, as well.

The Not So Obvious: Curtis (6-2, 180), who ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, was recruited out of Hawthorne (Calif.) High, where he was an unstoppable quarterback, and in his junior prep season scored an astounding 39 of his team’s 42 touchdowns. In fact, in one high school game, Curtis once scored touchdowns as a quarterback, wide receiver, running back and defensive back.

During Curtis Conway’s three football seasons 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-seasons Trojans career as an exceptional wide receiver and punt and kickoff return specialist, Curtis was known as “Comet” for his speed and moves. He was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection.

Trying to tackle Curtis Conway (photo above) on a punt return was like trying to eat soup with a fork.

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

In 1990, Comet had 12 punt returns for 161 yards (13.4 avg.) and one TD.

In 1991, Curtis had 24 punt returns for 172 yards (7.2 avg.).

In 1992, the man, who wore jersey No. 3, had 31 punt returns for 346 yards (11.2 avg.) and one touchdown.

For his career, Curtis had 67 punt returns for 679 yards (10.2 avg.) and two touchdowns. Conway ranks third on USC’s all-time punt return list.

At the conclusion of his USC service, which meant departing 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 a Pac-12 Networks video below, Curtis (No. 3) discusses the art of the punt return, and there is a highlight of a return by Mr. Conway.

The Obvious: Reginald “Reggie” Alfred Bush Jr. (2003-05), from La Mesa (Calif.) Helix High, is arguably the most electrifying all-purpose player in USC football history, an all-time collegiate great who ranks with the immortals of the game and deserves to take his place not only as one of the O/NSO’s Mount Rushmore tailbacks but punt returners, as well.  

Reggie Bush (photo above) was perhaps the most explosive punt returner in USC football history.

The Not So Obvious: The former 2005 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time All-American (unanimous 2005) has returned to the good graces at USC. Despite all the Bush-NCAA controversy, there is no controversy as it pertains to Reggie as a tailback and punt returner.  

By the end of the 2005 season, Reggie had accumulated 2,611 all-purpose yards, scoring 18 touchdowns (15 rushing, two receiving, one punt return). His ability to score either by rushing or receiving or on special teams was incomparable.

Whether he was returning punts, returning kickoffs, or rushing the football as a tailback, Reggie Bush (photo above) could score from anywhere on the field.

In his USC punt return career, Reggie returned 44 punts for 559 yards (12.7 avg.) and three touchdowns. His longest punt return was 84 yards in 2005, but he also had a 64-yard return in 2004.

After his playing days at Troy, Bush went on to a successful NFL career and was a cog in the New Orleans Saints Super Bowl season and eventual Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Colts in 2009.

In order to understand how great Reggie (No. 5) was at USC, you can’t just concentrate on any one aspect of his game, so for your enjoyment, here below is a video that shows ALL facets of his game for truly one of the all-time greats.

The Obvious: Adoree’ K Jackson is one of USC’s greatest all-purpose performers, as well as a 2016 All-American and 2016 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s premier defensive back.

Adoree’ Jackson (photo above) will always be remembered by USC fans for his dynamic ability with a football in his hands.

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, Adoree’ returned 46 punts for 578 yards (12.6 avg.) and four touchdowns. His longest punt return was 77 yards.

Adoree’ Jackson (photo above) was a threat to return punts for touchdowns anytime in his USC career and did so on four occasions.

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

Going to the NFL early, 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 showcases his total ability on special teams and explosiveness both on offense and defense.  

The Obvious: And finally, selecting a four-man Mount Rushmore for punt return specialist was a pleasure, which included by looking at stats and video highlights.

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

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

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

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

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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