The USC-Carolina Connection

Recently, I wrote a piece on the Georgia-Carolina Connection that looked at University of Georgia alum who have made their way onto the Carolina Panthers roster. My buddy Steve Danner immediately commented that the Bulldog contribution was thankfully greater than the Southern California Trojan’s.  This got me wondering, who has come from USC to Carolina and what have they done?

Duane Bickett (1996) 

An exceptional player who by the time he reached Carolina was cashing his paycheck and a Social Security check. Bickett earned Defensive Rookie of the Year, notched 100+ tackles in seven consecutive seasons, amassed 53 career sacks (2 in Carolina even though he didn’t start a game, forced 9 fumbles, and snatched 9 INTs. Although he only earned one Pro Bowl appearance and played his final season in Carolina, Bickett was a player--one who has sadly been forgotten by most. 

Norberto Davidds-Garrido (1996-1999) 

There really isn’t much information available about Davidds-Garrido. He played right tackle for the Panthers for two of his four seasons. He played one season with the Cardinals, but, other than that he is a first generation Mexican-American, there isn’t much information available. 

Rodney Peete (2002-4)

He had a long pro career, but there wasn’t much to it.  His greatest success came in Carolina when he went 7-7 in 14 starts, while the team finished 7-9.  It was a successful season for all involved since it followed the 1-15 dumpster fire of 2001. Peete was a good second fiddle.  His replacement by Jake Delhomme resulted in a Panthers Super Bowl run, and in college he finished second in Heisman voting behind Barry Sanders.  Peete is now involved in broadcasting and works actively in promoting the HollyRod foundation with actress wife, Holly Robinson Peete. 

Matt Willig (2003-4) 

You may know him as Chino from Dexter, this former Panther left tackle now is a successful Hollywood actor.  At giant status, it’s hard not to typecast him for the giant, intimidating tattooed guy, but Willig wasn’t a giant coming out of college, nor automatically typecast for left tackle.  He went undrafted, and as one sports reporter wrote about his joining the Jets,  “He rarely started during an undistinguished career at Southern Cal and was ignored in the 1992 NFL draft. Two days before the Jets opened camp that summer, one of their former scouts suggested the tall, skinny end might be worth a look.”  Willig ended up playing 14 years in the NFL, and was on the Panthers Super Bowl team.  One giant memory of Willig’s time in Carolina was in the same game that Julius Peppers intercepted a Jake Plummer pass in the end-zone, ran for 101 yards and somehow didn’t get a touchdown after collapsing on the 3 yard line. In that game, Willig hurled a penalty flag at a referee who inadvertently hit him in the eye when penalizing Panther lineman Rich Tylski for a false start.  Willig’s outburst cost the Panthers 15 additional yards and put them out of field-goal range and ultimately leading to a loss. Not to be lost in all of this, how did Peppers seriously not score after running 101 yards!

Keary Colbert (2004-07)

There were high hopes for the second-round receiver who burst onto the scene with 47 catches, 754 yds, and 5 TDs his rookie year.  Colbert gained some solid experience in his rookie year in the absence of an injured Steve Smith. Ricky Proehl was retiring and with Smith returning the next year, it looked as if Carolina had found the next 1-2 receiver combo. He seemed to have so many of the tools, smart, hard working, reliable hands, and a solid route runner. Colbert never worked out, however. His production steadily declined, ending with Carolina parting ways as his rookie contract expired. Abrupt stints in Denver, Seattle, Detroit, and Kansas City signaled that Colbert’s college success and draft profile simply don’t always translate into the NFL. Colbert currently is an assistant offensive coach at the University of Alabama.  He formerly was the wide-receivers coach at Georgia ST and a TE coach at his alma mater, USC.

Keyshawn Johnson (2006) 

Give him the damn best ranking on this list for players coming out of USC to wear the Black and Blue, even if it was just for one season.  The former #1 overall pick in the 1997 NFL Draft, Keyshawn was everything you want int a #1 receiver and #1 pick.  He was the diva nicknamed Me-Shawn and even wrote a book titled Give Me the Damn Ball after playing on a team that went 1-15. He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, terrorizing the Carolina Panthers for 4 years in the meantime, where he racked up 2 of his 4 1000+ seasons.  Johnson played one year with the Panthers, marking their only time with a true 1-2 receiver combination outside of the Muhsin Muhammad-Steve Smith duo. He closed his career out with a respectable season in Carolina, totaling 70 receptions, 815 yards, and 4 touchdowns.  If anything, he’s the one wide receiver who has come out of USC who hasn’t been trash in the NFL.

Dwayne Jarrett (2007-10)

Jarrett who had more DUIs than touchdowns is the definition of bust.  He tallied only 35 catches for 428 yds and 1 TD in his four years with Carolina. The big-bodied receiver never had the skillset or the mental acumen to play in the pros, or even the CFL for that matter. Jarrett created a fear amongst Panther fans that  

Ryan Kalil (2007-Present)

He’s the best Carolina has had from Southern California, but since he plays center and wears a bear costume, he can only be but so sexy.  The former 2nd round pick has made four Pro Bowl appearances, started 100 games in Carolina, and been the shining star of the offensive line for the last six years. Aside from his on-field success, his vibrant personality is one bigger than typically associated with the unheralded heroes of the offensive line.  He’s a bit whacky, and he likes to engage with the media and fans, even if it is putting a public guarantee to win the Super Bowl in the Charlotte N&O to begin a season that finished with the Panthers going 7-9.

Thomas Williams (2010-11)

Thomas Williams ended his career in Carolina after being placed on injured reserve after a neck injury from a head to head collision. Williams now works as a motivational speaker and recently published Permission to Dream, which advocates for individuals to pursue their dreams in the face of adversity. The two-time National Champion played “played in seven games with two starts at middle linebacker.” and was inactive for one game for Carolina...Suffered a neck injury versus Minnesota (10/30) and was placed on injured reserve

Jeff Byers (2011-13) 

The sky is falling and Jeff Byers retires most wouldn’t find too related.  Byers only started seven games for the Panthers and rotated in for 8 weeks in 2014, but with Jordan Gross retired, then Geoff Hangartner and Byers quickly following, as one Panther fan stated, Carolina was left with “2.5 offensive lineman” going into 2014.  The injury bug bit Byers pretty hard throughout his college and pro career.  He battled to get off the practice squad, and in 2012 and 2013 he saw legitimate time on the pro field.  The bug bit again, however, ending his career at just 28 to a Lisfranc injury. 

Wes Horton (2013-Present)

This undrafted gladiator is fighting hard to get in a defensive end competition dying for a guy to take the lead. His father and American Gladiator, Michael Horton, believes it is his work ethic that will help him win it. Horton has seen most of his action in rotation with Mario Addison and Kony Ealy on first and second down situations as a run stopper mostly. 

The list is long, and rather undistinguished.  Outside of Kalil, former Trojans have made guest appearances in the Black n' Blue during the twilight of their careers.  Keyshawn Johnson had a respectable season with the Panthers, and Rodney Peete was important in the transition to a new coaching regime. Kalil has been the bright spot at a position that goes overlooked by most.  Other than Kalil, I guess Southern California is no Georgia.

By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow him on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles