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The Check-In: USC’s Kedon Slovis bolstering his arm strength and playing guitar

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis looks on from the sideline after being removed because of injury during the second half of the Holiday Bowl against Iowa on Dec. 27, 2019.
USC quarterback Kedon Slovis looks on from the sideline after being removed because of injury during the second half of the Holiday Bowl against Iowa on Dec. 27, 2019.
(Orlando Ramirez / Associated Press)

His elbow had finally healed. His arm was finally back to normal. But for USC‘s Kedon Slovis, normal would last all of one mid-March practice, before a pandemic intervened.

The rising sophomore quarterback has been home in Arizona ever since spring practice was abruptly canceled, trying his best to maintain a shred of normalcy during a crucial offseason expected to propel him to prominence.

Slovis still watches film with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell over Zoom. He still works out three days per week, doing what he can without access to a home gym. He throws at a local park on the days in between, with his private coach, Shawn Seaman, at his side and his dad, Max, as his lone receiver.

“It’s not exactly an ideal situation,” Slovis said.

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But as he anxiously awaits a return to his college football routine, Slovis resolved to spend at least part of his quarantine embracing the circumstances of a new world. So, last month, on his 19th birthday, Slovis bought an acoustic guitar.

“I always wanted to play,” he said. “With sports growing up, though, I never had a chance for lessons. I always kept it in my back pocket.”

The guitar, with its gleaming maple finish, remained mostly in its case until this week, when his final exams were finished. With virtual classes complete and football still presumably months away, Slovis has nothing but time to strum away the spring and summer between throwing sessions.

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Until now, he’s spent most of his free time building up his arm to last through those sessions. Since spring practice was canceled, Slovis has focused largely on improving his mechanics, in order to build the stamina he lacked through his breakout freshman campaign.

Looking back, he’s not sure how his arm lasted through an entire season.

“I remember in fall camp last year, two practices in, I felt like my arm was dead, and I never fully got it back,” Slovis said. “The whole season, I was battling to get my arm fresh for games and practices. It was hurting all the time. It was something you don’t really see. Game day was fine because my adrenaline was so high, I didn’t really feel it. But by Thursday, my arm was pretty dead.”

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis throws against UCLA in November.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
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He wasn’t properly engaging his core. He wasn’t rotating his hips. Most of his lower-body strength went completely unused, he explained, as the power behind his throws came solely from the strength of his right arm.

That arm was still enough to put together a record-breaking freshman campaign that placed him among the most accurate quarterbacks in college football. He completed 71.9% of his passes (282 of 392) for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns.

But by December, midway through USC’s Holiday Bowl defeat, his arm gave out.

Four-and-a-half months later, his arm has never felt better.

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“I can throw as many passes as I want, and my arm wouldn’t be tired, which is something I’d never felt as a quarterback before,” said Slovis, who was voted the Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”

The same could’ve been said about his initial rise last season, as an injury to starting quarterback JT Daniels thrust Slovis, an unheralded three-star recruit, into the spotlight. A year later, Slovis is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, while Daniels, who’s still recovering from a torn knee ligament, weighs his options in the NCAA transfer portal.

Several major schools have expressed an interest in Daniels. With the NCAA unlikely to pass the one-time transfer rule this year because of COVID-19, it’s possible that Daniels could return to push Slovis for the spot.

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Slovis hasn’t spoken to Daniels since he announced his intentions to explore a transfer. But Slovis is crossing his fingers that his counterpart returns.

“In all honesty, we need him,” Slovis said. “As much as people wouldn’t think I’d say that, we need as many quarterbacks as we can, especially after what happened last year.”

But now, with his arm stronger than ever, Slovis hopes this is the start of a new way of life. One with fewer injuries. And maybe even some acoustic guitar.


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