When it comes to passing out superlatives to USC players for the 2012 season, it’s easy to figure out who is the best passer or the top tackler. The stat sheet will tell you that.
The same goes for deciding the tallest or shortest or heaviest or skinniest. Just check the roster.
But if you want to know the inside story on the players who stand out off the field, you have to go to the insiders.
So we checked in with a pair of respected seniors — linebacker Shaq Wilson and spur DeVonte Hollman — to get the real scoop. The pair weren’t always in agreement on their choices, which are noted here, but they came to many of the same conclusions.
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The consensus: senior safety D.J. Swearinger. But Wilson also had to give a shout-out to a fellow Floridian in freshman spur Jordan Diggs. “A lot of guys from Florida, we all like to dance,” Wilson said.
After a pause, Holloman said, “It might be (senior tight end) Justice (Cunningham).” But Wilson went with youth. “I’m going to say (freshman linebacker) Cedrick Cooper. Me and Coop are always singing,” Wilson said.
One name quickly got the votes: senior linebacker Damario Jeffery. “He can talk his way out of anything,” Holloman said. Wilson agreed, but he added a few contenders. “Damario definitely talks a lot. Damario and (sophomore cornerback) Victor Hampton, those two guys can talk your head off.” After running through a few other names, Wilson decisively added sophomore quarterback Dylan Thompson. “Dylan’s definitely a politician.”
Holloman went with his fellow panelist in Wilson, stating that “Shaq’s really smart. He thinks the game.” But Wilson was modest about it. “There are a lot of smart guys on the team. I don’t want to include myself in everything,” he said, before naming junior quarterback Connor Shaw. “He’s definitely a smart guy. He does so many great things on and off the field.”
A smiling Holloman wasn’t sure this one should be a category. “We don’t have many of those. We’ve got a bunch of knuckleheads out here,” he said. “I don’t know who to say. I’d say Connor Shaw.”
The long-running choice, senior defensive end Devin Taylor, apparently has become too chatty over the years. “It used to be Devin Taylor. I don’t know who it is now,” Holloman said. Wilson decided to give the nod to senior linebacker Reggie Bowens after Taylor lost his crown. “Devin’s wide-open now. He’ll talk to anybody anytime,” Wilson added.
Holloman views it as a no-brainer, picking sophomore defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. “By far,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get. What he thinks is what he says. You’ve just got to be prepared.” Wilson went in a different direction. “I give it to Devin Taylor and (senior tailback) Kenny Miles,” he said. “They’re outgoing, do what they want to do, free spirits, having fun and enjoying it.”
Holloman simply made this one a position award, citing the entire defensive line. “They all like to eat. The D-line likes to go out for sushi and wings and all that stuff,” Holloman said. “I kind of got caught up hanging with them and gained a little weight. I had to cut that out.”
This one also went to D.J. Swearinger for his ability to keep everybody loose. There’s his blue pit bull named “Blooh,” there’s his trash-talking, gold-plated-grill-wearing alter ego named “Jungle Boi,” and there’s his artistry on the locker-room whiteboard that frequently calls out the foibles of his teammates.
Wilson looked to a fellow senior in center T.J. Johnson, whose warm nature sometimes gets hidden behind his exterior. “T.J.’s like the really old man of the team,” he said.
This wasn’t a category until Wilson ditched his modesty and brought it up himself. “I’m a guy who thinks I can do everything. I can sing. I can act. I can do everything,” he said.
Holloman and Wilson didn’t get a vote in this one. Instead, we’re giving a career achievement award to senior cornerback Akeem Auguste, a likeable, outgoing fellow who has given nothing but money quotes to media members over the years. Put a camera or digital recorder near him, and he lights up like a Christmas tree.