He arrived last January as an afterthought.
Kedon Slovis was just 17, still a few months short of his senior prom, and little was expected of him. He was a late-bloomer, a three-star lost in the shuffle of big-time quarterback recruiting, who commanded only a handful of other FBS offers. His arrival, in the grand scope of USC’s quarterback competition, would elicit little more than a passing shrug outside of the program.
Inside, however, the young freshman from Scottsdale, Ariz., was quickly turning heads. He was calm. He was confident. Where other quarterbacks were forced to adjust to the Air Raid’s simplicity, Slovis’ grasp felt preternatural.
As spring slipped into summer, the baby-faced freshman was expected to fade. He never did. For 30 practices, as he flashed an arm so few had expected, carrying himself with the swagger of a more pedigreed passer, Slovis made the most convincing -- and unexpected -- push of any at USC to unseat the incumbent, JT Daniels, at quarterback.
“Kedon is a special talent,” USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “I think, talentwise, he’s as good as I’ve ever seen. But what Kedon did the best was come in and expect to play well. He came out and didn’t hesitate. He never acted like a freshman. He said, ‘If this is an open competition, I’m going to compete.’
That competition may now be closed with Daniels officially earning his place under center for the second straight season. But it was Slovis’ performance that was perhaps the most noteworthy part of USC’s protracted camp battle.
His ascent to the primary backup spot, ahead of more experienced options in redshirt sophomore Jack Sears and redshirt junior Matt Fink, was a testament to the competition that USC’s staff tried to foster, even as so few believed Daniels’ starting role was in peril.
Over the summer, Slovis quickly progressed. He added 15 pounds of muscle and studied hours upon hours of tape, accelerating his development in an offense that was new to all four quarterbacks competing for USC’s open job.
If not for Daniels’ unrelenting consistency throughout camp, though, his job may not have been all that safe from Slovis, Harrell said.
“Kedon can make some throws that other people can’t make,” Harrell said. “He just came in and made some freshman mistakes, and if he wouldn’t have, I don’t know if he would’ve won the job or not, but it could have been a different story possibly. He knows that.”
It wasn’t lost on Daniel either.
“Stepping into college last semester, it looked like he’d been here before,” Daniels said of Slovis. “The kid is a really good football player. He wants to get better. He learned the system.”
The system would prove to be the great equalizer, just as coach Clay Helton had intended. Even though Fink and Sears had more experience, the system’s simplicity ultimately offered a more equal glimpse at the talent of USC’s group of four quarterbacks, all of whom Helton insisted are capable of starting elsewhere.
For Sears, who still has two years of eligibility remaining, that could be the case in the future. The redshirt sophomore chose not to speak with the media on Wednesday, but his decline from competing for the starting job to sitting fourth on the depth chart, calls his future with the program into question.
For Slovis, that future appears bright. Few expected him to be this far along, this early on. Even if those anticipated limitations hadn’t dawned on the freshman himself.
As news spread of his ascent up the depth chart, messages of congratulations came pouring in from friends and family. It left the freshman puzzled.
“It was a weird deal,” Slovis said. “People are saying congrats, but you want to be the guy, you know?”
He may not be that guy just yet. But after ascending in USC’s quarterback competition, he’s no longer an afterthought either.