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Saluting the Seniors

Seven scholarship seniors will take part in their final USC game on Friday night, as the Trojans will say goodbye to three captains and several others who put in plenty of time and work in games as well as the practice field.

While there has been unrest among the fanbase during and after two seasons with a combined 11 loses, and the senior class is very small, their contributions shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. saw action as a true freshman at USC, and while he caught just six passes for 82 yards, he was dynamic on special teams. Pittman returned two punts for 63 yards, blocked a punt, forced a fumble and had seven tackles. As a sophomore, Pittman continued his special teams success, returning a punt 72 yards for a touchdown against UCLA. In his junior year, Pittman caught 41 passes for 758 yards and six touchdowns, as he led the Pac-12 in yards per reception and was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12. That set the stage for his senior season, where Pittman became a USC captain and put his name firmly in the USC record books. Pittman has 95 receptions for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. With one catch against Iowa in the Holiday Bowl, Pittman will break a tie with Mike Williams and take over fifth place on the single-season receptions list at USC. And with 45 receiving yards, he’ll finish in the top 10 in single-season receiving yards in USC history.

Pittman was a Biletnikoff Award finalist this season. He won the Pop Warner National College Football Award, given to the graduating senior or graduate student who has excelled on the football field, in the classroom and in the community. And he is one of three finalists for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, which recognizes exemplary leadership both on and off the field.

Pittman has been a steady presence and tremendous leader for the Trojans, and he is going to be missed in all aspects next year, on and off the field for the football program as well as in the USC community.

Pittman had a number of memorable grabs and plays, but it’s tough to top what he did against Utah this year, catching 10 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown in leading the Trojans to an upset of the Utes.

Linebacker John Houston Jr. was a major recruiting win for the Trojans in 2015 class and he developed nicely over his USC career. As a sophomore in 2017, he finished with 84 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception. But he saved his best for this season. Heading into the Holiday Bowl, Houston leads the Trojans with 100 tackles and has chipped in 2.5 sacks. He ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in tackles this season.

After playing his first few years at weakside linebacker, Houston was moved to middle linebacker this season, a move that demonstrated the coaching staff’s faith in Houston to captain the defense and get everybody lined up correctly. Houston was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 this season and has been credited with 267 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a forced fumble in his USC career.

Defensive end Christian Rector will take 104 career tackles, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and an interception into his final game as a Trojan. He suffered through nagging injuries this season that kept him out of several games, but his acrobatic interception against Arizona State secured a big road win late in the season for USC. Rector will likely be remembered by USC fans for his sophomore season, when he burst onto the scene with 7.5 sacks, good for fourth in the Pac-12 that year. And the interception against the Sun Devils this year was the second time in his career he made a huge play late in the game to virtually secure a win for the Trojans. during that 2017 season, arguably Rector’s biggest play came in overtime against Texas, when he ripped the ball away from quarterback Sam Ehlinger as the Longhorns looked to be going in for a touchdown. The fumble recovery gave USC its overtime possession, and the Trojans won on a field goal.

Offensive tackle Drew Richmond played just one season at USC, but he was an important addition via the transfer portal as a graduate transfer from Tennessee. Richmond took over the starting right tackle position this season. Adding Richmond wound up being extremely important, as USC was able to slide Jalen McKenzie inside to right guard, and overcome the losses of Andrew Vorhees and Liam Jimmons to injury during the season. Richmond fit in well along the USC offensive line and with his Trojan teammates this season, and the success he had in making the quick transition should help USC should the coaches decide to go back to the transfer portal for immediate help along the offensive line.

Dominic Davis didn’t have the on-field impact throughout his career that he likely would have wanted, but he did everything asked of him throughout his Trojan tenure. The speedy Davis spent time on offense and defense during his time at USC, flipping between running back, wide receiver and cornerback. As a freshman and sophomore, Davis saw some time at running back. He finished his freshman season with 14 carries for 69 yards, to go with seven receptions for 102 yards. His sophomore year, Davis has 23 carries for 132 yards. And this season, he saw some brief time at tailback when USC’s position was decimated by injury. He had two carries for 15 yards. Undoubtedly, the on-field highlight of Davis as a Trojan was his 85-yard run late in a big USC win at Arizona.

Jacob Daniel played on both sides of the line of scrimmage for the Trojans. He came to USC as a standout defensive tackle, and that’s where he spent the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He played in three games as a true freshman, recording three tackles, and then saw action in eight games as a sophomore, finishing with six tackles. Daniels was moved to offensive guard during the 2017 season, when he used his redshirt season. He then saw time along the offensive line in one game last season, and five games in 2019.

Clayton Bradley was limited by a back injury he suffered during the 2018 season, but he was still able to make his mark at USC. Bradley joined the 2015 USC recruiting class as a blueshirt addition, then saw action in three games as a redshirt freshman in 2016. Bradley’s biggest contributions came during the 2017 season, when he played in 14 games and even drew three starts, against Washington State, Oregon State and Utah. Bradley played in all three games to open the 2018 season before the back injury effectively ended his playing career for the Trojans.

Several non-scholarship seniors deserve mention for their time spent with the USC football program as well, including Thomas Fitts, who spent two years as a backup quarterback before spending the last two years as a backup kicker.

Matthew Hocum came to USC from Marquette and served as a backup wide receiver for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. With receiver numbers down this past spring, Hocum made more than his share of plays during spring ball — enough that it became routine to hear offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, who called Hocum “Slim,” praise him during most practices.

And senior linebacker Matt Bayle served as a backup outside linebacker, inside linebacker and defensive end during his five-year USC career. Bayle saw action in one game in 2018.

Congratulations and thank you to all of the USC seniors set to finish their Trojan careers on Friday night.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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