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O/NSO: The USC Mount Rushmore series – The Safeties

The Obvious: Beware of big hitters and headhunters, as our four-man selection of USC’s all-time safeties for the O/NSO Mount Rushmore certainly fits that bill.  

The Not So Obvious: There’s always the perception that linebackers are the biggest hitting creatures on a defense. Well, don’t tell that to offensive skill players that encountered the likes of USC’s all-time safeties. If you value your senses and physical well-being, it would have been best to avoid any contact with the O/NSO’s four-man group of all-time safeties on our Mount Rushmore.

Before presenting our all-time safeties, let’s recognize some really tough-guy safeties with extraordinary athletic ability who didn’t quite make our “final four” but are without question worth noting: Tim McDonald, Mike Battle, Artimus Parker, Charles Phillips, Dennis Smith, Marvin Cobb, Cleveland Colter, Darnell Bing, Taylor Mays, Kevin Ellison, T.J. McDonald,  Su’a Cravens, and Marvell Tell lll.

A 1974 All-America safety, Charles Phillips (photo above) was a key starter on USC’s national championship teams of 1972 and 1974.

Again, 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 safeties for the O/NSO’s USC Football Mount Rushmore.

The Obvious: Dennis Lee Thurman (1974–1977) was a two-time USC All-American (1976 and 1977), a unanimous selection in 1977.

Dennis Thurman (photo above) was a legendary USC safety and a two-time All-American.

The Not So Obvious: Dennis Thurman (5-11, 173) was a highly decorated prep All-American recruit out of Santa Monica (Calif.) High School.

During Dennis’s four-year Trojans’ career, his teams combined for a 37-10-1 record, and he was a member of the Trojans’ 1974 national championship team.

This gifted athlete was a two-time All-Pac-10 first team selection, who played in the 1975 Liberty Bowl, two Rose Bowls (1975 and 1977), and the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl.

In his career, Dennis recorded 169 tackles (11 for losses), 13 interceptions (2 TDs), 11 deflections, and 4 fumble recoveries.

In 1977, Dennis was named a preseason Playboy Magazine All-American and was later named USC’s team MVP and the Trojans’ Defensive Player of the Year.  

Dennis Thurman (photo above) celebrates a successful touchdown in the Coliseum (photo by University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images).

Following his senior season, Dennis was selected to play in the 1978 Senior Bowl.

Dennis was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He played in Super Bowl Xlll.  

In the video below, Dennis (No. 7) plays in the 1977 Rose Bowl victory over Michigan.

The Obvious: Ronald Mandel “Ronnie” Lott (1977-1980) was a 1980 unanimous USC All-America safety.

Safety Ronnie Lott (photo above) is arguably the greatest defensive player in the history of USC football.

The Not So Obvious: Ronnie (6-2, 200) was recruited out of Rialto (Calif.) Eisenhower High, where he was a magnificent three-sport star in football, basketball, and baseball.  

Ronnie’s four football teams at USC were a combined 39-7-2, and he was a member of the Trojans’ 1978 national championship team. A two-time first team All-Conference selection and 1980 team captain, Ronnie was also the 1980 USC MVP of his team.

During his four-season Trojans career, Ronnie appeared in the 1977 Bluebonnet Bowl and the 1979 and 1980 Rose Bowl Games.  

In his career, Ronnie recorded 250 tackles (22 for losses), 37 pass deflections, 10 fumble recoveries, and 14 interceptions.

Prior to the 1980 season, Ronnie was named to the Playboy Preseason All-America team.

In 1980, No. 43 was selected Co-Defensive Player of the Year and won the Davis-Teschke Award as USC’s Most Inspirational Player.

Following the 1980 season, the Trojans all-time great safety played in the 1981 Hula Bowl.

Safety Ronnie Lott (photo above) was selected to the Pac-12’s All-Century team and was also named the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Century.

At the conclusion of his USC career, Ronnie was selected by the San Francisco 49’ers in the first round (8th pick) of the 1981 NFL Draft. During his NFL career, he played in Super Bowls XVl, XlX, XXlll, and XXlV.

In 1995, Ronnie was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 1995, Ronnie was named to the Pac-12’s All-Century Team and Defensive Player of the Century.

In 2000, Ronnie was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in 2002 he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

In the first video below, enjoy Ronnie Lott (No. 42) USC highlights, and in the second video, a review of Ronnie and his 1980 USC defense with USC DC Don Lindsey.   

The Obvious: Mark Anthony Carrier III (1987-1989) was a two-time All-American safety, a consensus choice in 1989, and the Trojans’ first Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back.

Legendary USC safety Mark Carrier (photo above wearing a white USC hat) leads his alma mater out of the Coliseum tunnel and onto the field.

The Not So Obvious: Mark (6-1, 185) arrived at Troy from Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High, where he was a prep legend.  

During his three-year USC career, Mark’s Trojans teams were a combined 27-8-1, and he played in the 1987 Citrus Bowl and three Rose Bowls (1988, 1989,1990).

Mark was a two-time All-Pac-10 safety (1988-89).  

For his Trojans career, Mark accounted for 336 tackles (11 for losses), 34 deflections, 13 interceptions, and 6 fumble recoveries.

In 1989, Mark was a Playboy Preseason All-American.

Mark was awarded USC’s 1989 Defensive Player of the Game Award versus Notre Dame and also was Troy’s Defensive Player of the Game versus UCLA in 1987 and 1989.

In 1989, Trojans All-America safety Mark Carrier (photo above) was the Trojans’ first Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back.

Deciding to leave USC early, Mark was selected in the first round (sixth pick) by the Chicago Bears in the 1990 NFL Draft. During his NFL career, he played in two Super Bowls (XXIX and XLll).

In 2007, Mark was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 2015, Mark was selected to the All-Pac-12 All-Century Team.

In the video below, Mark Carrier (No. 7) helps the Trojans to a 17-10 victory over Michigan in the 1990 Rose Bowl Game.

The Obvious: Troy Aumua Polamalu (1999-2002) is a two-time All-American (2001-2002), a 2002 AA consensus selection.

Troy Polamalu (photo above) is one of the greatest safeties in the history of college and pro football.

The Not So Obvious: Troy (5-10, 215) was an under-the-radar recruit out of Tenmile, Oregon, and Douglas High.

During his four seasons at USC, Troy’s teams were a combined 28-21.

In 2001 and 2002, Troy was named a USC team captain and was the Trojans’ team MVP in 2002.  

In his four-season career, Troy accounted for 281 tackles (29 tackles for losses), 17 deflections, 6 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries.

In the eyes of many, Troy is considered one of football’s all-time violent “hitters” on the three levels – high school, college, and the NFL.  

While at Troy, he appeared in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl and the 2003 Orange Bowl.

In 2001, Troy was USC’s MVP and in 2002 Troy’s Most Inspirational Player.

In 2002, Troy was a Playboy Preseason All-American.  

In 2002, Troy was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award.

Troy Polamalu (photo above) was one of the most feared tacklers in the history of football.

Once his USC career was over, Troy was drafted in the NFL’s first round (16th pick) by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2015, Troy was selected to the Pac-12’s All-Century Team.

In 2018, this cardinal and gold legend was inducted into the USC Athletic Hall of Fame.

In 2019, Troy was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.  

In 2020, this former Trojans’ safety was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his induction in Canton, Ohio, will take place in 2021 due to the coronavirus. Troy played in Super Bowls XL, XLlll, XLV.   

The video below is a highlight collection of Troy Polomalu (No. 43) as a Trojan.

The Obvious: And finally, selecting a four-man Mount Rushmore for the safety positions was fascinating since there were so many players to choose from.

The Not So Obvious: Next Friday, we’ll release our four-man Mount Rushmore for corners, and that should be interesting food for thought.  

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/

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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