Just a few years ago the USC Football program was afraid to wake up in the morning. The news of course could not wait as the stories were popping from one side of the aisle to the other and the news was never pleasant. Whether it was the ongoing Todd McNair case and delays to justice or the Lane and Steve show creating embarassing moments that even today won’t go away on their own.
At the start of the 2016 season it opened with a smiling Max Brown taking the reins of the offense from fellow Trojan and NFL QB Cody Kessler. Following in a long line of tradition Max was anxious to prove his skills in front of his teammates and coaches. Time would take its toll on Max as although the spring went ok and summer showed his focus and leadership skills there was this star rising beneath him that was hard to ignore. Sam Darnold, who came in under the radar at the request of QB Coach at the time, Clay Helton, was starting to stir the pot for QB1. Nothing serious but again it was starting to look like a legitimate ask as to whether Max was truly the #1 QB for USC at the start of 2016.
Then along came Alabama. Max was under constant pressure and the team, that appeared ready for the big stage, folded miserably in front of the College Football world on live national television. Sam would continue at the helm but the noise was there and the team was shaky. After a 1-3 start Coach Helton made the tough decision. Take out a great kid and loyal Trojan and take the risk on the practice kid, Sam Darnold. Takes guts to make those moves. Helton made the move and although game one was a loss to Utah the next 9 games were something for Hollywood including the Rose Bowl victory over Penn State that many believe was the greatest Rose Bowl of all-time.
Sam Darnold had arrived. He took the ball and was on the nations second longest winning streak and clearly QB1 for the Trojans. The team kicked off 2017 with high expectations and during the first three weeks questions started to rise from those high expectations and with the exception of the Stanford game this team had red flags. They were the team lucky to have opened up with three victories. They struggled in their opener against a good Western Kentucky but not the 2016 version. Sam was clearly not looking like 2016 Sam Darnold.
Throughout the season the Sam continued with his ball control and ball handling issues. The staff saw what everyone saw but were unable to coach him out of it as he reached epic proportions that were both physical and mental mistakes. But this was Sam. His lightning God given talent allowed him to overcome the mistakes time after time and lead the Trojans to the Pac-12 Champoinship game after taking the South. A rematch with Stanford and a Stanford team that at the time was on the rise and not accustomed to losing twice to the same team in the same season. Sam and the Trojans played a solid game in the Pac-12 champoinship. The Trojans won with an amazing defensive second half effort stopping the Cardinal at the goal line and securing the victory.
The team was back at the stage they once strolled across every year. They were in the dance discussion but a long-shot for the playoffs. On paper they were legit. But there was something the eye saw that wasn’t in the stats. This team won ugly for the balance of the year. They did this because of Sam. He gave hope to the team on all sides of the ball. He weathered the loss of many of his skilled players from 2016 and nurtured the new receivers less Deontay. They were coming together then Arlington happened, again. No need to discuss further.
Sam Darnold single handidly rekindled the torch at the Coliseum. He woke up the strong traditions of the past at Heritage Hall. He made a new head coach, learning on the job, look good while he mastered the pressure and expectations of being QB1 at USC. Sam new how to present. He knew how to manage the stress. He gave his goodby speech with great poise while his face told a different story. He was amazingly calm in voice yet clearly saddened for his speech announcing the end of this rein as QB1 at the school he loves.
Sam, we thank you. We have hope that your efforts and results have rekindled that once bright light and law of attaction to all high schools nation wide to come west or stay home for those in Los Angeles. The door is open and it’s time for Fight On to move to the center stage without hesitation and for the first time in a decade the table is set and the staff must take the next step in evolving the program.
Fight On and best of luck in the NFL, Sam.