So it’s happening.
Junior receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and junior cornerback Adoree’ Jackson are officially hanging up their helmets as Trojans. Next season, we won’t hold our breath as the ball hangs in the air during every kickoff, and we won’t join in with mid-game dance sessions as the stadium speakers blare “JuJu On That Beat.”
It’s been a tough transition, as the afterglow of the Rose Bowl wore off with every NFL declaration and senior goodbye. And as I fondly reminisce over the last few years worth of mind boggling catches and kick return dashes, I can’t help but wonder what USC football is going to look like without our dynamic duo.
I’m a sophomore who grew up in Kansas, far from the shiny allure and storied tradition of USC football. I didn’t grow up singing the Fight Song or wearing cardinal and gold, and even now as a sports editor I’m constantly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about former head coach Lane Kiffin or quarterback Matt Leinart.
When I came to Los Angeles two years ago, I sustained a very quick, very rushed history of Trojan history. It was characterized by an overarching hatred of UCLA, hallowed with championships and punctuated by names like linebacker Junior Seau and former head coach Pete Carroll. But more than anything or anyone else, JuJu and Adoree’ have defined my short-lived run as a USC fan.
They did it with style, with heart, creating the type of excitable buzz that every student section requires to stay on its feet and roaring throughout the blaring heat of early autumn in Los Angeles.
The first time I heard the name Adoree’ Jackson and remembered it, he had just dodged nine — perhaps 10 — Arkansas State defenders in the season opener of my freshman year. The play only gained him 20 yards, but it felt like he was running forever, bobbing and weaving, doing whatever he needed to stay on his feet for another second.
I had just enough time to wonder who the heck that was before the loudspeakers announced his name, the sound booming through the Coliseum. It wasn’t the type of name you forget.
JuJu played with that same eye-catching style, the kind that made it impossible to forget his presence. He played through a broken hand, an injured hip, a bad back. He threw blocks that sent opponents flying. He goaded defensive backs into tackling him just to toss them the opposite direction with a stiff arm.
There was a reason we loved them so much. Statistically, there’s a lot to say about the two players — together they led the team in scoring, receptions, rushing, kick returns, interceptions, fumble returns. They set records, won awards and made headlines on a weekly basis. But as much as it might seem to be on paper, those stats aren’t the reasons that we loved them so much.
We don’t watch sports simply to see teams make precise marches into each other’s endzones. We watch them for a show, for entertainment, and JuJu and Adoree’ were nothing if not entertaining. Each week, each kick return, each pass, it seemed we were all thinking the same question — what are these guys going to do next?
A huge factor of the popularity of any college athlete rests in the way they live their lives every day. Just ask any Florida State or Oklahoma fan — it’s hard to cheer for your star when he loses his shine off the field.
This is even more true for college stars than it is for the pros. Professional athletes can hide away from the rest of us, retreating to their unattainable lifestyles to remain removed from the average fan. But college athletes stay in the same dorms, eat in the same dining halls and take the same classes as the rest of the average USC population.
That means that the spotlight follows them wherever they go. It’s not an easy job keeping that image up, but it’s something JuJu and Adoree’ somehow maintained throughout their three years as Trojans.
They were humble, straightforward and sometimes downright hilarious in interviews. They roasted each other for being “ugly” on Twitter and turned back flips during practice. Most importantly, they bought into that idea — the Trojan family — that we’re so proud of, and they stuck with it until the end.
It’s pretty easy to tell when a player is well-loved by the USC student section. Their names are painted onto the stomachs of the front row of the Trojan Knights. Their numbers are emblazoned on the jerseys filling the stands and roars of “one more year” fill the stands when they take the field.
We loved JuJu and Adoree’ because of how they played, and we’ll remember them for that, too. But more importantly, we’ll remember and miss them for the way they took the field each week, representing our school in the best light, giving us all something to feel proud about.
The Rose Bowl proved to us that we’ll be okay without them, especially in the hands of head coach Clay Helton and redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold. But there will always be something missing, and that’s not a bad thing. That’s what a legacy looks like — a lasting impression, the type that makes fans miss a player long after they’ve moved onto bigger and better things.
I’ve been a USC fan for two years now, and I still have a lot to learn. But I think I’ve seen enough to know this — JuJu and Adoree’ may be leaving after this year, but their legacies will remain for much, much longer.
Julia Poe is a sophomore studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs on Wednesdays.