The football season may be over for USC Football, but it’s not over for some USC players— former ones, at least. The Trojans in the NFL finished their regular season on Sunday and some now have the playoffs to look forward to. And then there’s the Pro Bowl.
Yes, yes. The Pro Bowl will likely continue to be low quality football. Players on playoff teams may play without any intensity or even opt not to show up in an effort to preserve their bodies. This year, they are adding even more rules to make the game safer. They are also trying to make it more interesting by eliminating the conference constraints and implementing a draft.
Regardless of the prestige of playing in a Pro Bowl, being selected to a Pro Bowl remains an honor. So while the quality of the play for that one game may be suspect, the quality of the player is legitimate.
Four former USC players have been honored in such a capacity: Tyron Smith, Ryan Kalil, Troy Polamalu, and Jordan Cameron. Every other school has no more than three of their former players selected.
Troy Polamalu is the oldest of the four, having played in the NFL since 2003. The strong safety was drafted 16th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers and has stayed there for the past 11 seasons. He has started every game he’s played in since 2004. Since that 2004 regular season, he has been selected to every Pro Bowl except the ones following the 2009 and 2012 regular seasons.
With his iconic hair, he runs around the field getting tackles, interceptions, and forced fumbles. He makes mind-blowing flying tackles and has helped his team win two Super Bowls. He would not even be able to fit all his honors onto a resume.
Back at USC, he played alongside Carson Palmer. As a 3-year starter, he made 278 tackles, 29 of which were for a loss, 13 pass deflections, 2 fumble recoveries, and 4 punt blocks. He also picked off opposing quarterbacks six times, returning half of them for touchdowns. It was no wonder he was a consensus All-American in 2002 and an All-Pac-10 first teamer in 2001 and 2002. He has been dominant in every level of the game.
Ryan Kalil is the older brother of former USC left tackle, Matt Kalil. He was selected in the second round of the 2007 NFL draft and 59th overall by the Carolina Panthers. He has since become the highest-paid center in the NFL after cementing a starting spot early in his career. This is also his fourth Pro Bowl selection.
During his time at USC, they won 2 national championships and 2 Rose Bowls. Kalil played as a backup en route to the 2003 AP National Championship and started as center for the 2004 BCS title run, capped off by helping Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush destroy Oklahoma 55-19. He was an integral part of the success continued through 2005 and 2006. As a senior, he won the Morris Trophy for the Pac-12′s best offensive lineman and got consensus All-American honors.
Tyron Smith started off his pro career as a top 10 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He went 9th to the Dallas Cowboys. He kept the title of “starting right tackle” uninterrupted from his junior season to his first year in the NFL. Then he lost it— they moved him up to left tackle for his second season. He has started every game he played in since then. Whether it was Tony Romo or Kyle Orton, Smith protected their blindside. After just his third season in the NFL, he has spent more time blocking for NFL quarterbacks and running backs than college ones.
He entered USC in 2008 and did not redshirt. As a true freshman, he was a backup left tackle with some playing time on special teams. As a sophomore in 2009 he started 12 games at right tackle. He was, again, starter at right tackle for the 2010 season. That time around, he also brought home the Morris Trophy, much like Kalil did.
Jordan Cameron was an unheralded fourth round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns back in 2011. Many USC fans probably had no idea the Trojans had him on the roster up until that point. Actually, many of them might still not know this player lived out his college career at USC.
During the third game of the 2013 regular season, Cameron caught a franchise record-tying three touchdown passes in a win against Minnesota. In that single game, he caught more touchdown passes than he did his entire career at USC and the previous two seasons with the Browns, combined.
His college career began at BYU, where he was redshirting on the basketball team from 2006 to 2007. In the fall of 2007, he played tight end at Ventura Junior College and took many classes in order to qualify for transfer to USC. When he got to USC in 2008, he wasn’t able to accomplish much, playing in a few games at receiver and tight end and tried his hand at basketball again.
He returned to the football field in 2009 as a wide receiver, but did not catch any passes. He had a quiet 126 yards receiving and 1 touchdown as a tight end during his senior season at USC in 2010, Lane Kiffin’s first year as head coach.
He still managed to get drafted and continued to work without much fanfare. He only managed 259 yards and a single touchdown on 26 receptions his first two seasons with the Browns. After a couple more games like the one against Minnesota, Cameron amassed 917 yards and 7 touchdowns on 80 receptions to close out the 2013 season. Over half of the passes he caught (47) were good for first downs. This tight end doesn’t just catch, though – he is the complete package with solid blocking skills.