By Ryan Young
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — At a program acclaimed for producing NFL quarterbacks and Heisman Trophy candidates at the position, where fans are always awaiting and quick to anoint the next great one, Kedon Slovis arrived on campus quietly a year ago.
A 3-star prospect from Scottsdale, Ariz., his signing withUSC produced no fanfare, no projections, no expectations.
Slovis was arriving a year behind incumbent starter JT Daniels — a 5-star prospect who had indeed been crowned USC’s next star signal-caller before he ever threw a collegiate pass — and a year ahead of 5-star QB Bryce Young, who was already committed to the Trojans in the 2020 class at the time (before later flipping to Alabama — perhaps due in part to Slovis’ emergence).
Slovis wasn’t even a part of the quarterback conversation when he took his first reps of spring practice as an early enrollee. The fan base was divided between Daniels, who had an underwhelming freshman year in 2018 amid those weighty expectations, and redshirt sophomore Jack Sears, who produced in his one lone relief start.
All of that is to say that what Slovis accomplished this season is only that much more impressive when put in context — but certainly it was incredible by any measure and perspective.
By the end of the year, Slovis’ performances had earned him the FWAA Most Inspirational Freshman Award, announced on Monday in New Orleans.
The true freshman beat out Sears and redshirt junior Matt Fink for the backup job in fall camp, took over in the second half of the season opener after Daniels sustained a season-ending knee injury, and by the end of the campaign he had passed for 3,502 yards, 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
According to USC, his 71.9 completion percentage was the highest by a true freshman QB in NCAA history. His 3,502 passing yards are the ninth most in a single season by a USC quarterback — he was 129 yards away from cracking the top five on that list — and Slovis only played nine full games, plus the second half of the opener, 2 pass attempts vs. Utah before sustaining a concussion and a little more than two quarters in the bowl game before departing with an elbow injury.
He was at his best after returning from that early season concussion, which cost him most of two games. Over the final eight contests, he passed for 2,770 yards (346.3 per game), 25 TDs and 5 INTs. For that matter, he just kept getting better. Over his final four games, he averaged 403.3 passing yards and totaled 14 TDs and just 1 INT — and that passing average would be even higher if not for the injury early in the third quarter verus Iowa in the Holiday Bowl.
Slovis had four 400-yard passing games over the final five regular-season contests, which already matches Matt Barkley’s USC career record for 400-yard games. Slovis’ 515 yards vs. UCLA (with 4 TDs and 0 INTs) broke the Trojans’ single-game passing record.
All told, he finished ranked 10th nationally in passing yards per game (291.8), but again that stat is skewed is by the partial games.
He was deservedly named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, and suddenly the once-overlooked 3-star prospect is also being recognized by the odds makers as an early 2020 Heisman Trophy candidate.
As it turned out, USC indeed had its next star quarterback in the fold — it just wasn’t the one anyone expected.
“I think the sky’s the limit for that kid. He’s as talented of a kid as I’ve ever been around, and mentally he’s really, really sharp,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said of Slovis. “I don’t think you’re around kids like that real often, so for him the sky’s the limit and that will be the expectation for him as long as I work with him — to be really special, because he’s capable of being really special.”
As for Slovis, well, this season certainly changed the outside perception of the young QB, but it hasn’t changed him one bit.
“All the awards and things are kind of silly, I think, because it’s such a team-oriented game, and I wouldn’t be anywhere without the guys around me,” he said in December. “So I don’t get caught up in that too much.”
But what a story it has already been through just these early chapters.
Late last December, Slovis sat in a living room back in Scottsdale, Ariz., with his parents discussing his path to this point and why he was undaunted about the Trojans’ seemingly stacked QB depth chart.
His father Max Slovis put it best that evening.
“Everyone brings it up, and it’s the same answer — let’s go, let’s see what happens,” the elder Slovis said. “People are always like, ‘Why would you go there? There’s all these great quarterbacks.’ We’re a great quarterback — let’s go see what happens. …
“My sister lives in San Diego and [tells us], ‘Oh, my friend says they have this guy, this guy and this guy.’ We are this guy.”
That much is clear now.
About Stand Together
The Stand Together Foundation, presenting sponsor of the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Awards, is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty by supporting the creative solutions of individuals and organizations who are driving dynamic entrepreneurship in communities across the country and helping people transform their lives. Founded in 2016, the Foundation partners with the nation’s most effective and top-performing non-profits to help them deepen and grow their impact through innovative solutions to break barriers for people in poverty so that they can realize their potential.