Decision making, timing and accuracy. These three keys will determine who will start at quarterback for the 2018 USC Trojans, a three-way competition between freshman JT Daniels, redshirt sophomore Matt Fink and redshirt freshman Jack Sears.
Daniels, who threw for over 12,000 passing yards and 150 touchdowns in three seasons at national powerhouse Mater Dei High School, reclassified from USC’s 2019 class to enter the competition this season as a true freshman. Fink is the most experienced of the three, having played 2017 as backup to Sam Darnold. He played in three games and finished the season with a 66.6 percent completion percentage on nine passes.
Sears guided San Clemente High School to a state championship in 2016 and enrolled at USC in the spring of 2017, graduating one semester early from high school.
At the first scrimmage of fall camp two weeks ago, Daniels went 10-of-12 with four touchdowns. His high school teammate, freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown, caught six passes for 160 yards. The two prep stars’ chemistry has been evident throughout the entirety of fall camp, making the possibility of the two starting for the Trojans in 2018 quite intriguing to many.
The second fall camp scrimmage, this past Saturday (Aug. 18), was much more focused on the USC coaches taking a closer look at the Trojans depth. Daniels completed eight of his 10 throws on the day, with many USC veteran players on the sidelines. Fink went two-for-eight, while Sears completed each of his two passes.
With a “mock game” to be held this Saturday (Aug. 25), fall camp drawing to a close and the Trojans home opener against UNLV fastly approaching (Sep. 1), decision making time is looming for the USC coaching staff.
“Each one has something different to work on,” head coach Clay Helton said after Tuesday’s practice. The starting quarterback announcement won’t come until after Saturday’s mock game at the earliest. Once the decision is final, Helton plans to privately consult each of the three quarterbacks and call their families.
The coaching staff will put each quarterback in unique situations and make the scrimmage as game-like as possible. Headsets will be used for communication and substitutions, while personnel groupings will also be changed on the fly. “It helps me in that last phase, in a real game-like situation, to be able to see who is ready and who may need a little more time to develop,” Helton said. First-year quarterbacks coach Bryan Ellis added, “it’s more of a mental day.”
Daniels threw two interceptions at Tuesday’s practice, one of them snatched by freshman cornerback Olaijah Griffin. Griffin, the son of famous rapper Warren G and a top-five high school recruit from Mission Viejo High School, also picked off FInk at Wednesday’s practice.
Outside of the quarterbacks, Porter Gustin (Outside Linebacker, Sr.), Toa Lobendahn (Center/Tackle, Redshirt Sr.), Cameron Smith (Inside Linebacker, Sr.) and Marvell Tell (Safety, Sr.) have been announced as USC’s four team captains for 2018. “The beauty about being a captain here is it’s the vote of your teammates,” Helton said.
Blake Atwell is a multimedia journalist and sophomore at Santa Monica College.