February, 16, 2012
By WeAreSC staff | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Chris PizzelloThought to be a throw-in when he was recruited, Chad Morton made a big impact at USC, most notably calling his shot against UCLA in 1999 to break an eight-game losing streak to the Bruins.
WeAreSC staffers discuss the biggest surprise performances through the years by USC tailbacks -- either for a season, a career, or a single game -- that were somewhat unexpected.
Steve Webster -- In his first three years at USC, Webster only appeared in one game due to a series of injuries and things didn’t look much brighter in 1987 with a pair of highly decorated prep All-American tailbacks on the roster in Ryan Knight and Aaron Emanuel. During spring ball, however, the speedy Webster won the job and ended up being a 1,000-yard rusher for a team that won the Pac-10 title and played in the Rose Bowl. Of course, history caught up to Webster, as he was forced to miss the bowl game due to injury.
Chad Morton -- There were plenty of critics who pointed out the reasons why Morton wouldn’t be a tailback at USC. He was too short. He was a corner. He was only on the team because of his brother (former All-American WR Johnnie Morton). He heard all the reasons why he shouldn’t succeed and then he simply went out and did it. A two-year starter, he rushed for over 1,000 yards as a senior and is currently No. 11 on the all-time USC career rushing list. In his final home game in the Coliseum -- a victory over UCLA in 1999 which snapped an eight game losing streak to the Bruins -- Morton was carried off the field by teammates and fans.
Sunny Byrd -- The year was 2001 and the first season of the Pete Carroll era was off to a 1-4 start. In the next game against Arizona State, the Trojans were held to minus-13 yards rushing in the first quarter, which saw starter Sultan McCullough leave the game with an abdominal injury. In came Byrd, a less-than-swift fifth-year senior who had never carried the ball for the Trojans. The former juco transfer proceeded to run his way into the USC memory book with 63 yards on 20 carries and a pair of scores in the 48-17 victory that was one of the key building blocks of USC’s resurgence under Carroll.
Allen Bradford -- The reason Bradford is on this list is because Bradford is a linebacker. He was a linebacker in high school and he should have been a linebacker at USC. The coach who moved him to running back -- Pete Carroll -- recently signed Bradford to the Seattle Seahawks roster as a linebacker, so that should say something. That’s not to say he wasn’t a pretty good running back too, a tough guy all the way who was talented enough to put up 212 yards against UCLA in his final game for the Trojans in 2010.
Curtis McNeal -- McNeal was a standout at Venice High School, but many thought his size could prevent him from doing big things at the next level. He came to USC the year after the trio of Joe McKnight, Marc Tyler and Broderick Green, and may have eclipsed them all with the season he put together in 2011.
Chad Morton -- Injured for virtually all of his senior season in high school, injury and size questions followed Morton to USC. Morton said he felt the juco route might be his best option when recruiting was falling short. Some saw him as a throw-in because of older brother Johnnie, but Morton rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns at USC and was terrific in the return game as well.
LenDale White -- It might be cheating to include White, as just about everybody had him pegged to become a very good running back. But in the storied history of Trojans tailbacks, none have rushed for more touchdowns than White. I don't think anybody would have guessed that when the former Colorado star signed with USC in 2003 along with surefire star Reggie Bush.
Ricky Bell -- Yes, Bell was obscure at the beginning because he came to Troy as a linebacker/fullback out of Los Angeles Fremont. Coach John McKay, a master of moving players around, changed Bell from linebacker to blocking fullback to finally a tailback his final two seasons, where he became a two-time All-American, Heisman Trophy runner-up his senior year, and the No. 1 pick of the 1977 NFL draft.
Anthony Davis -- A unanimous 1974 All-American, you might find it hard to believe that A.D. started as a backup tailback during the national championship season of 1972, and not until he came off the bench at Oregon in late October and put on a show in the Eugene rain to lead the Trojans to a tough 18-0 victory did he eventually become a starter. The rest, as they say, is history.
Chad Morton -- Having long been considered the little brother of All-America wide receiver Johnnie Morton, Chad overcame high school injuries to get a chance at USC and had to fight his way to the top. He may be best known for a 1999 prediction of a Trojans victory over UCLA, bold considering the Bruins were riding an eight-game winning streak against the Cardinal and Gold. Morton ran for 143 yards against the boys from Westwood in a stunning 17-7 Trojans victory.
Ricky Ervins – Sure, Ervins was considered a good tailback coming out of Pasadena (Calif.) John Muir High, but it took to later in his career to really put his mark on the Cardinal and Gold program. As a junior, Ervins elevated himself from third string at the start of fall camp to become the leading rusher in the Pac-10. In the 1990 Rose Bowl against Michigan, the 5-foot-7 tailback ran for 126 yards on 30 carries and scored the winning touchdown on a 14-yard run with 1:10 to play.
Steve Webster -- Who knew this little guy from San Diego Helix High would become a big success? Arriving at Troy, the Trojans didn’t seem to know if he should play defense or offense. Always seeming to battle injuries dating back to his high school days, Webster finally became a starting tailback and capped off an improbable season in 1987 season by being named All-Pac-10.