Stepping into the spotlight

first_img“It was terrible to see JT go down,” Slovis said. “He’s [my] teammate, he’s a friend. I didn’t know the implications of the injury. I didn’t know he was going to be out for the entire year. Especially finding that out was hard to hear. But everyone gets their opportunity at some point, and you never know when you’re going to get another one.” From just outside the red zone, Slovis put the ball up for grabs, but a Chaparral defender came down with it and ran the interception back for a touchdown. A boisterous celebration erupted in the far end zone as the Desert Mountain team looked on, dejected. Having taken a helmet to the chest, Slovis returned slowly to his feet. Former Desert Mountain offensive coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner said he and former head coach David Sedmak placed high demands on the young quarterback, but Slovis thrived with the responsibility. After Slovis got the job done in his debut, head coach Clay Helton announced Daniels would miss the rest of the season. Now the starter, Slovis was thrust further into the spotlight ahead of a highly anticipated matchup with Stanford. But the game wasn’t over yet — a flag had been thrown on the hit. The opposing team’s celebration died down as the referee called roughing the passer, giving Desert Mountain a final untimed down and a chance to win the game. “He just loved the position of quarterback,” Kedon’s father Max Slovis said. “He loves the cerebral position where he gets to dissect what the other team’s doing and analyze and then make the decision of where [his team’s] going to go with that play. Whereas basketball’s a little more of a one-on-one, in-your-face kind of sport … That didn’t really fit him as much.” The nerves were certainly there, but Slovis did what he needed to do, hurling a deep ball to set up a score and ultimately leading the Trojans to an 8-point victory over the Fresno State Bulldogs.  “I told him early on, ‘We are going to expect you to do more than most high school quarterbacks in the entire country,” Warner said. “‘From calling plays to what you’re going to have to see, and more importantly, to the number of throws you’re going to have to make in each game, is probably going to be more than any quarterback in the league.’ And … he welcomed the opportunity to have to make every play.” In the Trojans’ last game against Colorado, Slovis threw for 406 yards and four touchdowns with just one interception on the night. His 72.3% completion percentage this season ranks sixth amongst all NCAA quarterbacks and is the highest for any freshman. The casual supporter and football fanatic alike appreciate Slovis’ game, and even students who don’t follow the football team recognize Slovis as its front man. Following his breakout performance against Stanford, the title of USC’s student meme page on Facebook was changed to “Kedon Slovis Fanclub Incorporated,” the same page where posts satirizing the Trojans’ disastrous losses could be found last season. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis was a relatively unknown prospect out of high school, but finds himself thriving as USC’s starting signal-caller. (Tal Volk | Daily Trojan) But then visiting programs saw Slovis in action. Although Slovis is younger than the majority of his teammates, he is taken seriously as a leader and has become more comfortable with experience. Silence overcame the rowdy Coliseum crowd as sophomore quarterback JT Daniels lay injured on the turf midway through the Trojans’ season opener. As freshman Kedon Slovis stepped behind center, there was speculation as to whether the 3-star recruit out of Scottsdale, Ariz., was ready to inherit a close game on one of college football’s biggest stages.  “The plan was to go and compete for the job as a freshman,” Sedmak said. “He’s got that focus and that drive … and the reports coming back, especially through spring ball, were that he was doing really, really, well … When they named him the backup I was not surprised. It’s not something that you would expect, but knowing him and who he is and how hungry he was, I wasn’t surprised.” “Most kids in high school would be like, ‘Oh whatever, I’m not going to go home and practice calling plays,’” Warner said. “But he did it at that point in time when he was a sophomore, and I thought, ‘OK, that’s something a little different about him,’ and I found that out before he was even [starting].” Sedmak said Slovis was eager to step back onto the field and prove he was better than the performance fans saw at BYU. After suffering a concussion on the second play from scrimmage against Utah, Slovis returned to face then-No. 9 Notre Dame on the road. Warner recalled giving Slovis the practice script and advising him to incorporate practicing the play calls into his routine, reciting them in front of the mirror or in his bedroom. Kedon began to focus solely on football, putting in extra hours with his long-time quarterback coach Shawn Seaman in addition to going to high school practices.  Less than a week after USC made Slovis an offer, he and his family visited campus, and it was game over from there. Despite getting the wind knocked out of him just seconds earlier, Slovis stepped up in the pocket and found the open man in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. With Slovis’ talent at quarterback and poise beyond his years, it may come as a surprise that he was largely unheard of during the recruiting process. Desert Mountain went 6-5 his junior year and isn’t known for harvesting Division I talent. Slovis also lacked varsity film from his sophomore year, which likely contributed to his status as a 3-star recruit. Slovis continues to demonstrate his ability to recover from mistakes as a Trojan. A lot of buzz surrounded the young quarterback after his record-breaking first start against Stanford, but his first road game was another story. Slovis threw three interceptions in USC’s loss to BYU, including a costly pick in overtime to seal the Trojans’ fate.center_img “We sat down, talked about it a little bit, and I said, ‘Alright then, that is your job,’” Max said. “‘Your job is to become a Division I quarterback. You don’t need to get a job after hours … this becomes your biggest goal, to do everything you can to make it happen and academically make it happen.’” The chance that head coach Clay Helton and offensive coordinator Graham Harrell took on the young quarterback is paying off. “Just amazing that he had that poise, that toughness, that he could come back immediately after … first of all, he got intercepted,” Sedmak said. “Second of all, it was emotional because the game was over, and third, he got crushed, and yet he could put all that behind him within 30 seconds or a minute and make the big play both mentally and physically so we could win the game.” “Once the [coaches] came it was like, ‘OK, what doesn’t this kid have?’” Warner said. “‘Why have we not heard anything about this kid?’ And it was simply just because nobody really gave him the time to take a look at who he was and what he was capable of.” Slovis took extra classes during his junior year and over the summer so he could graduate early and participate in USC’s spring camp. 2018 starting quarterback JT Daniels, redshirt junior Matt Fink and redshirt sophomore Jack Sears were all returning for spring ball, but Slovis had every intention of being in the mix for the top job. Unlike many future Division I quarterbacks, Slovis did not start for his high school team as a sophomore, waiting his turn behind then-senior Austin Nuessle. As a backup, Slovis initially struggled with the wordiness and complexity of the plays he was expected to call. Sedmak recalled Slovis’ first high school start against crosstown rival Chaparral High School, a program that had won the majority of its contests against Desert Mountain in the years prior. His team fell behind 20-0 at the half, but after Slovis led a comeback effort, the score was 27-21 Chaparral with seconds to go. Max recalled a conversation he had with his son about his goals as an athlete. Even before Kedon made Desert Mountain’s varsity squad, he was confident that he wanted to work toward being a Division I quarterback. As chants of “Kedon Slovis” erupted from the Coliseum stands that night, it was clear that the fresh face had returned some of the energy to a Trojan program still recovering from that rough 2018 campaign. With Slovis’ sudden new role came increased media attention. His inexperience showed as he stumbled through the first postgame press conference, but like his play-calling ability, Kedon’s new sense of confidence with the media has come with practice. Once Slovis became the starter his junior year, Warner and Sedmak noticed not only his work ethic, but his ability to take accountability for and recover from mistakes, a critical trait for a player whose program rested on his shoulders. “When I focused on the other guys, those were probably my worst reps or days,” Slovis said. “I decided to just focus on what I was doing, do my best and at the end of the day, you can control what you can control, and the coaches will put you where you’re supposed to be.” Although Slovis showed promise in basketball his freshman year and was named team MVP, the analytical nature of the quarterback position and the responsibilities it entails continued to bring him back to football. “It was surreal, but at the same time, I tried not to let it change anything,” Slovis said of his fellow students’ support following the Stanford game. “As much as people think things have changed for me, the only difference is probably people recognize me more now, but everything I do in the facility and outside of football is relatively the same.” “First of all, the academics here,” Slovis said of his reasons for committing to USC. “My parents and all of my extended family really value that, so when I was wanting to play college football, the big thing was to make sure [I] go to a school that’s academically up there. But also, it’s a historic football power with 11 national championships. Not many other schools have that combination of both athletics and academics.” Slovis said he tried to drown out the performances of the veteran quarterbacks he was competing with to focus on proving his own talent. This was not the first time Slovis had to rise to such a challenge. During his two years as the starter for Desert Mountain High School, he was expected to compensate for a small offensive line and a defense that had trouble getting stops. “He has grown into [his confidence] much more in the last year and a half, and he takes great pride in being able to handle those situations in front of the camera, in front of the microphone, so he goes back and looks at that stuff, too,” Max said of his son. “He definitely works on it and thinks it’s important to put out the best product, whether as an interview or in the pocket.” Although he managed just 74 passing yards in the first half, the freshman lit up in the second, finishing with 255 yards and two touchdowns against a Notre Dame defense that had only given up three passing touchdowns through five games. As the Trojans came up just short of a brilliant upset, it became clear that Slovis could be the top signal-caller for the long haul. “When he first got here, he was kind of low key, but then after [the] Stanford game … he’s been way more vocal,” redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp said. “You can tell he’s matured. He’s been taking on more of a leadership role, and you can just tell he’s a competitor.” After his transition from being a 3-star recruit to the starting quarterback for such a historic football program, Slovis continues to prove he can handle the limelight.last_img

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