In the Thurman Family, It’s Safeties First : USC’s Junior and Cowboys’ Dennis Can Compare Notes and Interceptions

Times Staff Writer

For a little more than 48 hours, USC safety Junior Thurman had the bragging rights in his family.

That lasted from a week ago Saturday, when he intercepted two passes in the Trojans’ 20-10 victory over Illinois, until last Monday night, when his brother, Dallas safety Dennis Thurman, intercepted a pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins on national television.

His brother’s interception was the last of six for the Cowboys in their 44-14 victory, and Junior said, “I knew his turn had to be coming up.”

He sounded resigned to being the other Thurman.

Even if he didn’t know his place in the family after the Trojan opener, his brother set him straight in a telephone call from Dallas Monday morning.

“He said I did pretty good but that he wouldn’t really be impressed until I took one back for a touchdown,” Junior said after a workout last week.


There obviously is a healthy sibling rivalry between the two, but there never has been any question of Dennis’ support for his younger brother’s football career.

During Junior’s senior year at Santa Monica High School, Dennis, a USC All-American in 1976 and 1977, asked his former coach, John Robinson, to consider giving his brother a scholarship.

Robinson considered it, until he put Junior on the scales.

“I weighed only 145 pounds,” Junior said.

He said Robinson told him to go to junior college for a year, put on 20 pounds and then come to USC, where a scholarship would be waiting for him.

Junior enrolled at Santa Monica College, where he didn’t play football. Instead, he spent most of his time in the weight room, adding 15 pounds.

But because of a misunderstanding, he was still light on the credits required to transfer to USC. He spent the next year at West Los Angeles College, where he was honorable mention All-Southern California Conference as a defensive back.

In the meantime, Ted Tollner had replaced Robinson.

Concerned that Tollner might not feel bound by Robinson’s commitment, Junior and his mother visited the Trojans’ new coach.

“Dennis had already talked to me and told me what had been said,” Tollner said. “I felt at the time that we didn’t need any more defensive backs. Also, Junior really hadn’t played all that well (in junior college). We didn’t know that much about him.

“But I figured that since Dennis had played here and had done so much for the school, we’d take a chance. It turned out that Junior was a much better person and player than we knew about.”

That didn’t prevent Thurman from spending all but 15 minutes of last season, his first at USC, on the bench.

“I was discouraged at times, but I knew I’d get a chance some day,” he said. “You have to pay your dues here.”

A rare exception was his brother, who started as a freshman.

“He was one of the lucky ones,” Junior said.

Junior got his chance last spring, when USC’s defensive coordinator, Artie Gigantino, told him he would be asked to contribute more in 1985, his junior year.

When the season opened at Champaign, Ill., Thurman, who now weighs 170, still wasn’t a starter. But he might as well have been. As the fifth defensive back, he played about 75% of the time that Illinois had the ball because the Trojans used their nickel defense so much.

It was a good strategy against the Illini passing attack. Under heavy pressure much of the afternoon from the Trojan rush and unable to find open receivers against five defensive backs, Trudeau threw four interceptions. Besides Thurman’s two, Louis Brock and Matt Johnson each had one.

“We had their plays scouted well,” Thurman said. “The most important thing for us was that the defensive line put pressure on Trudeau. I don’t think he’d ever seen that kind of pressure before.

“He looked rattled at times. When you looked in his eyes, he looked pretty shaken up.”

Dennis Thurman probably saw the same look in Joe Theismann’s eyes after the Washington quarterback had thrown five interceptions Monday night.

Junior said this week he still remembers the day his older brother decided to go to USC.

“He was being recruited by both USC and UCLA,” Junior said. “We were watching them play each other on television, when I told him to go to the team in the cardinal and gold.”


“Because they were winning,” Junior said.

What if UCLA had been winning?

“I might have told him to go there,” Junior said. “I just wanted him to go with the winner. I was only 10 years old.”

Junior’s older brother hasn’t been forgotten at USC. In one of the references to Junior in the 1985 press guide, he is called Dennis.

Trojan Notes USC starting outside linebacker Greg Coauette probably will not play against Baylor next Saturday night because of an ankle injury. . . . Of the Trojans’ No. 4 ranking, Coach Ted Tollner said: “I don’t think it matters at this point. We expected to have some ranking going into the season. We knew that if we won, we were going to move up. The important thing is that the team doesn’t get caught up in it. If we expect the rankings to help us win, we’re going to lose.” . . . Freshman tailback Aaron Emmanuel made the trip to Champaign but didn’t play because of a groin injury and a sore back. When he worked out Tuesday, it was the first time he had been able to go full speed in more than a week. That has delayed his progress. “He’s not ready to play right now,” Tollner said. “He doesn’t know our offense.” . . . The temperature on the field at Champaign was 120 degrees. That wouldn’t have bothered the Trojans as much if they’d had the four sideline fans they ordered. Illinois also had ordered four fans, then canceled the order. The company assumed that since the Illini had canceled, the Trojans wanted their order canceled, too. Tollner said he was upset before the game but didn’t feel like complaining afterward because of the outcome. Someone no doubt would have accused him of being full of hot air.