Wide receiver No. 1: Drake London
Junior wide receiver Drake London is used to exceeding expectations. He’s used to standing out among his peers, dominating in his field and having a whole lot to brag about. London has just about all the qualities you would expect from an elite wide receiver. But that’s not the impression you get when talking to him.
One-on-one with London, he sounds like he’s a modest role player, just looking to make an impact for the success of the team. No mention of his numerous individual accolades, he’s instead attributing his success to others — players, coaches and family who have helped him along the way.
London is known for keeping a calm demeanor and humble attitude throughout strenuous seasons. He’s no stranger to the dramatics of the game, and he knows how to roll with the punches.
“I think my parents instilled [that in me] from day one,” London said. “You just have to let your work do the talking on and off the field. People are gonna praise you, regardless if you’re doing bad or good. So, you just got to keep a level head. [In times] that you’re too high, you can’t be too high. [In times that you’re] too low, you can’t be too low … Everything happens for a reason, everything is in God’s plan.”
Redshirt sophomore receiver Tahj Washington is a transfer from the University of Memphis, and while he may be new to the team, he immediately picked up on the type of player and person London is.
“He’s real humble; I love that about him,” Washington said. “He [rides] around on campus like a normal person. And that’s contagious as well. You see somebody like him [with] his status, and how people look at him, it doesn’t get to his head. He’ll give you some words of wisdom, how things need to be done in a certain way. [It’s] those little cheeky points that you wouldn’t think about.”
This humble attitude has earned London the respect of his peers. In the leadup to the first game of the season, London was named one of four team captains for the 2021 season. Captains are chosen by the players, as the distinction highlights the team’s most well-respected leaders.
“It is really, really surreal,” London said. “To be able to be picked by your peers is something special. I never really even thought that I was going to be picked, but it’s a blessing. I thank [my teammates] for the opportunity, but I don’t really think anything has changed to be honest. They picked me for the person I was before that, so I’m gonna stay that person.”
In 2018, the four-star recruit out of Moorpark, California committed to play at USC for not just football, but basketball as well. Heads turned as then-freshman London joined the Trojans taking on the challenge of being a two-sport Division I athlete. With this role came expectations, standards of performance in two different sports. But it quickly became apparent that London was built for stardom.
“There’s always those steps that happen, the first step was what he did at UCLA two years ago,” head coach Clay Helton said. “All of a sudden we had four 100-yard receivers, and he was one of them. We started a little bit slow, and we needed a spark, and he just [went] off and [made] six guys miss and [dragged] another six into the end zone.”
London was a standout freshman in an already packed USC receiving corps. He was the third leading receiver in total yards behind now NFL players Michael Pittman Jr., Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra St. Brown. London didn’t have the same instant success in basketball, however, only playing in three games in the 2019-20 season.
“I think I came into [USC] at a perfect time, especially being a young receiver,” London said. “Having guys like Michael Pittman, Tyler Vaughns and Amon-Ra [St. Brown] there, to see them and how they maneuver and work on and off the field has really helped me in my game. I’ll say that Michael Pittman — his aggressiveness and his tenacity on the field — Amon-Ra — how he just goes about his work, everything is Mamba-like — and then [Vaughns] — his swagger and his flashiness.”
As his sophomore season came along, London refused to step on the brakes. He led the team in total receiving yards, averaging nearly 84 yards-per-game and establishing himself as a No. 1 wide receiver threat. After the 2020 football season, it was clear London needed to make a decision: choose to continue as a dual-sport athlete or drop basketball.
“My parents helped me a little bit with it, but they ultimately let me know that it was my decision to make,” London said. “I wouldn’t say anybody really helped me make that decision. I just made it myself. I had to go with what the Lord God put in my hands before me.”
And so, just as the 2020-21 basketball season began, London officially committed to football full time. Growing up, it was London’s father, Dwan, who instilled him with a passion for the sport of football and the willingness to get better.
“I’ve had plenty of people, but my dad is the person who has helped me a lot,” London said. “Day in and day out, extra nights after practice, just going out there and just working on things.”
Last year’s football offseason was anything but normal. As the Pac-12 season faced delays, players had to stay fit and ready to go at any point. Back on a normal schedule, the team has had a set goal in getting ready for the opening game Sept. 4 against San Jose State and can prepare with a sense of security that they will have a season.
“Physically and mentally, I feel better,” London said. “It’s just getting back to that normality of things. And it’s definitely helped the team overall, in my eyes. It’s been more than [just] me.”
On the field, London brings a rare combination of build and skillset to the table, enabling him to line up as both an inside and outside receiver depending on where the team needs him. He’s a commanding deep ball threat but can also do work in the slot, weaving in and out of defenders with precision.
“He does everything well,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “To be as big as he is and [with] the body control that he has is rare. Most guys that are his size have a little bit of stiffness to them. It’s unfair to be that big and that fluid.”
The connection between the quarterback and receiver is one of the most crucial partnerships on the field at any point in a game. For junior quarterback Kedon Slovis, London will be a key target for a third consecutive season, and London said their experience together has helped them fine-tune their understanding of each other on the field.
“We’ve been in the same boat ever since we got in here and kind of never left the boat,” London said. “So I mean, the connection is definitely there.”
As for the rest of the receiving corps, London admires the versatility of a group with a long list of desirable traits.
“I feel amazing about the group,” London said. “I think we’re more versatile than we’ve ever been. There’s so many guys with so many different types of attributes. We have that speed, the strength. When we’re in the room together [and] when we’re on the practice field, we’re so close as brothers that it’s gonna make the season fun.”
London is looking forward to returning to a packed Coliseum, as he’s experienced both sell-out crowds and vacant stadiums during his time at USC.
“It’s gonna be a blessing to have [the fans] back out there,” London said. “So much momentum goes into having the fans out there. I’m really excited to go out there and see them, especially my family, that’s a big thing.”