Since February, Trojan fans and the media alike have praised USC and Sarkisian for a top-notch recruiting class. Full of four-star and five-star recruits, the class of 2018 has brought a lot excitement to Troy about the upcoming season. In addition to the new recruits, the Trojans will start a pair of walk-ons in 2015.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Connor Spears and junior kicker Alex Wood have both been named starters in their respective positions after joining the team as walk-ons.
Spears was forced to sit out last season per NCAA rules after transferring from Columbia. He played in five games as a freshman at Columbia and caught three passes for 32 yards.
Spears was originally set to be used as a reserve tight end in 2015 until Bryce Dixon was removed from the team after a violation of student conduct. Dixon’s absence created an opportunity for Spears, who impressed coaches in spring practice and fall camp.
Wood’s opportunity comes after the departure of last year’s starting kicker Andre Heidari. Wood started out as a reserve walk-on placekicker in 2012 and appeared in two games while Heidari was coming back from an injury. He hit all eight attempted extra points against Syracuse and Stanford.
Wood did not see any action as the backup in 2013, but appeared in eight games in 2014. Wood handled kickoffs in USC’s last eight games in 2014 and even served as placekicker against Arizona and Colorado while Heidari was again rehabbing an injury. He hit all 12 of his attempted points after touchdowns.
Though USC is renowned for its football prowess and legacy of college football and NFL greats, it is nice to see that walk-ons are still given a shot. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a Cinderella story, but it would make the season that much sweeter if it were aided by the success of walk-ons.
Though he wasn’t a walk-on, USC great Matt Cassel served as a backup to Matt Leinart and was always considered a reserve quarterback. Nowadays, Cassel is a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills. Leinart, on the other hand, was never able to forge a successful NFL career despite being drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
Though his reputation is surely in question right now, Tom Brady is another example of a great NFL quarterback who wasn’t intended as a starter. When he first enrolled at Michigan, Brady was listed as the No. 7 quarterback on the depth chart. Meanwhile, future NFL quarterback Brian Griese led the Wolverines to a Rose Bowl and a national championship. Brady eventually won the starting job in his last two seasons and went on to be drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Though Wood and Spears have a long way to go before they can be compared to the likes of Cassel and Brady, the 2015 season could be the beginning of two storied careers.
Regan Estes is a junior majoring in public relations and Spanish. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Wild Wild Westes,” runs Tuesdays.