Former USC quarterback Kedon Slovis announced Tuesday that he is transferring to Pitt, where he’ll look to rebuild his NFL draft stock with two years of eligibility remaining.
He’s also eager to turn the page after a personally-trying junior season with the Trojans that convinced him his time at USC was over one way or another.
Slovis went in-depth on that decision with TrojanSports.com this week during an appearance on the Trojan Talk podcast, while also reflecting on his time at USC overall.
“It’s really weird because after your freshman year you think you’re probably going to graduate and go to the league from USC, and it’s just not going to shake [out] that way. It’s very strange, but I kind of feel a lot better about things,” Slovis said on the podcast. “This season was really tough on me personally, as it was [for] a lot of people, I’m sure. And at the end of the season too and the couple weeks before I got in the portal, there was just a lot of uncertainty in terms of what I’d do. That in itself was a lot and it was pretty stressful times, pretty depressing times. It was definitely a pretty big bump of adversity that I haven’t seen before because it kind of came in a different way.
“It’s been a long journey and it’s only been a few weeks really, but I’m really glad to be here and really excited for the future because I feel I’m in a much better place [mentally] than I was not too long ago.”
Slovis was a three-year starter at USC who opened this season as a projected first-round pick in some high-profile NFL mock drafts.
But two games into the season, head coach Clay Helton was fired and everything seemed to continue to unravel from there.
Slovis was knocked out of the next game early with a neck injury, opening the door for freshman Jaxson Dart’s breakout performance and for the fans to clamor for Dart the rest of the season. Star receiver Drake London would eventually sustain a season-ending fractured ankle later in the year, interim head coach Donte Williams would force a highly-scrutinized quarterback rotation between Slovis and Dart that didn’t seem to benefit either, and Slovis would end up missing the final three games due to what he says was a hamstring injury.
Slovis also had a mostly unproven set of receivers behind London, after throwing to NFL-caliber targets like Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns and London in previous years, and opened the season playing behind two redshirt freshman offensive tackles who would have their struggles.
Overall, he passed for 2,153 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions this season and 7,576 yards, 58 TDs and 24 INTs in his Trojans career.
The high point was certainly his breakout freshman season, when he completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 3,502 yards, 30 TDs and 9 INTs. He was the Pac-12’s Offensive Freshman of the Year that season and a first-team all-conference pick as a sophomore.
But the last two years in general were not easy and this one in particular took its toll on Slovis.
“There were a lot of great things and I had a lot of great experience at USC, lots of positives, but one of the reasons ultimately that led to me transferring or deciding to transfer, is there was a lot of negativity from the moment I got there,” he said. “Obviously after the 5-7 season (in 2018 before he arrived), there was a lot of upset people in the USC family and I understand that, but we came in and I thought there was significant improvement, showed a lot of promise. But even that, I look back at the end of our freshman year, I think we had four games where we had lots of yards, I threw for lots of yards, the last game we had four receivers go over 100 yards — the second time that’s ever been done — and then the next Monday Mike Bohn’s having to announce that Clay Helton is not being fired.
“I look back at that as a great memory and I always will cherish that, but again, one of the reasons that’s been frustrating is even in those great moments the perception was very negative. I kind of just want to get to a situation that’s more positive and I’m looking forward to that as a whole.”
The negativity continued this season as much of the fan base threw its full support behind Dart after the freshman’s Week 3 breakout (391 passing yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs). Once Dart was cleared to return from surgery to repair a torn meniscus sustained in that game, Williams, the interim head coach, installed the clunky QB rotation.
Slovis led touchdowns on his first two drives against Arizona and was pulled from the game after the third series. Fans cheered loudly when Dart was put on the field. Both QBs had a mix of success and struggle while sharing the job for two games before Slovis watched the final three contests sidelined by the injury.
“It was frustrating. I still don’t really understand why or didn’t understand why and it didn’t make much sense to me, especially given the circumstances surrounding everything,” Slovis said on the podcast in discussing that QB rotation. “But that was something I had to face and personally looking back I think I handled it the best I could.”
As for his conversations with Williams …
“We had weekly meetings starting from when Coach Helton was no longer coaching the team. Again, he told me some feedback he wanted to see and I did my best to kind of address that,” Slovis said. “Just everything the way it was communicated to me, again, it wasn’t something that really made a whole lot of apparent sense, but coaches have their own rhyme or reason for why they do certain things and you have to assume he was doing the thing to him that he felt was in the interest for the team.”
Meanwhile, Slovis made a point to speak about the strong relationship he maintained with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell throughout this tough season.
“Great the whole way. Graham was awesome. I think he gets a lot of scrutiny that he doesn’t deserve, to be honest. He’s been nothing but the best dude for me. He’s been awesome with me, he’s been upfront with me, he’s been transparent, he’s a real dude,” Slovis said. “You can’t say that about a whole lot of people in college football, to be honest. I love that guy and he’s meant a lot to me. … That’s a relationship I’ll forever cherish and continue to cherish.”
Harrell endured a similar arc of perception from the USC fan base, with many heralding his work during the 2019 season before the sentiments turned and his approval rating from the fans sank.
In addition to his own frustration, Slovis was frustrated by what he felt was unfair criticism for Harrell.
“It’s easy when things aren’t going well to just point at the offensive coordinator and say, ‘It’s his fault.’ I’ve been in the film room, I’ve seen what we were supposed to do, I’ve seen what we were supposed to execute. Again, I think we were put in position to execute and make plays time and time again and that’s a credit to Graham. That’s a credit to the whole O staff, honestly,” he said. “There’s something to be said with the unhappiness that was had and the scrutiny that they faced, we still had the No. 1 offense in terms of total yards [in the Pac-12, 443.9 yards per game]. In USC’s worst year since I’ve been here, that says a lot as far as what he is as an offense and what they do.
“You can say whatever you want, but as a guy in the film room looking at the plays we’re calling and knowing how it’s supposed to look, I think the stuff he was getting was just really unfair. But that’s how it is. That’s how college football is. … As a guy in the room hopefully I have some form of credibility and I just want to put that out there for everyone that was trying to bash him for it.”
Slovis also had nothing but positive things to say about his relationship with Dart as the two QBs were thrust into what could have been an awkward situation but never was between them on a personal level.
“Jaxson’s been great the whole time,” Slovis said. “It was nice to have a guy in the room who conducted himself the way he did. I’d consider Jaxson a friend of mine. Jaxson’s a really good kid and I really don’t think this situation hindered our relationship in any way. I think he would tell you that. It was a tough deal that we were both kind of given … There’s no reason for me to blame him for any of the things that happened or blame anyone. It’s just something that happened, something we had to deal with.”
There were of course a lot of highlights from Slovis’ time as well.
He came in as an under-the-radar three-star recruit and took over the starting role when JT Daniels sustained a season-ending injury in the first half of the first game. Slovis got better and better throughout that first season and had a string of four 400-yard-plus passing performances in the span of five games late in his freshman year, including a program-record 515 vs. UCLA.
He battled back from an elbow injury sustained in the bowl game that year and had some ups and downs as a sophomore, but he also led dramatic late comebacks to beat Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA as USC went 5-1 in the pandemic-shortened 2019 season.
HIs best game this year was vs. Colorado, when he passed for 276 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs, doing almost all of that in the first half. The next week vs. Utah he passed for a season-high 401 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT, and then 299 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT at Notre Dame before the QB rotation was put in place.
Ultimately, as he got to the finish line of this season he knew it was time to move on.
“I thought going in before Lincoln [Riley] got hired, I figured it’s either go to the NFL or transfer because I think my time here is over. I think it was pretty apparent to me, and then once he did get hired it’s one of those things you kind of have to think about it for half a second, you know,” Slovis said. “And I told him that. I told him I feel I need a fresh start regardless of what’s happened here. I feel like I need to get to a new place. But also when Lincoln Riley gets hired, you have to kind of think about it and make sure you’re making the right decision. He understood that and he kind of echoed that he’s felt that in certain places as well and he would understand and help me with whatever possible. I was more than welcome to stay and he was happy to coach me and excited to coach me, but I really credit Coach Riley because he took himself out of the equation.
“He was kind of like, ‘If I were to be talking to you as a coach, I’d say stay, we’d love to have you and I’d love to coach you.’ He kind of said, ‘If I’m acting like your dad, I’m probably telling you if you’re feeling this way you should probably try to get a fresh start.’ Again, I appreciated that and sat down with him three or four times. He was great through the entire process.”
Slovis sought out feedback on his draft stock and while the responses were a range of results he ultimately didn’t want to gamble on his future with two years of college eligibility still remaining. His official feedback from the NFL was to return to school, but he had already made that decision by then and entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal two Mondays ago.
“It was kind of a funny experience. I was at the gym and I told compliance at USC I wanted to jump in on Monday. I was in between sets and my dad texted me, ‘When are you going to hit it?’ I texted our compliance guy at ‘SC and he responded, ‘Whenever you’re ready, just let me know.’ And I was like, ‘Sure, put it in.’ By the end of that set my phone started blowing up. It was crazy,” Slovis recalled. “I had to wrap up my workout and get in the car because I think it was actually Notre Dame was on the phone, the first call, and I was like, ‘Shoot, this is kind of developing a lot more quickly than I imagined.'”
He didn’t get to take any visits to any of the schools who showed interest, but he noted that his perspective was much different this time around going through a second recruitment.
Ultimately, he just wanted to find a place that was ready to win now, that had the pieces in place to be successful and a culture he could buy into quickly.
He found that at Pitt, which just had quarterback Kenny Pickett finish third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a redshirt senior after passing for 4,319 yards, 42 TDs and 7 INTs. Pickett’s top target was Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, who caught 93 passes for 1,479 yards and 17 TDs and who is expected to return.
Pitt did lose its offensive coordinator Mark Whipple to Nebraska after the season, but head coach Pat Narduzzi remains in place.
“Fortunately, you don’t really need to see a facility to get a feel for what school I’m going to at this point. Again, I’m kind of going for different reasons. My advice for someone who’s a freshman would be, ‘Find a coach you like, but don’t entirely commit to a coach because there’s a lot of turnover and he might not be there.’ But for me, I kind of am committing to a coach. I’m not going to be at this school for five, six years like you would maybe be as a freshman. It’s definitely a different process,” Slovis said.
In reflecting on his time at USC, Slovis said he’ll think most about the relationships, moments from the practice field and quarterback room and some of the friends he made. He talked about seeing tight end Jude Wolfe, his first roommate at USC, on his way out his final day on campus and the emotions that created, or the bond he built with his offensive linemen over the years. Center/guard Justin Dedich, who hosted Slovis on his official visit to USC, center Brett Neilon, guard/tackle Andrew Vorhees and wide receiver Michael Pittman, who he played just one season with, were some of the names he mentioned specificially.
“I kind of went to USC not knowing a soul and came back with a lot of friends and hopefully friends I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Slovis said.
Again, it was just time to move on — and he wasn’t ready to roll the dice on being a potential late-round NFL draft pick just yet.
“I just have a lot of confidence in who I am as a player,” he said. “I didn’t want last year to be my last year of college football. I know there’s more out there for me and it didn’t sit right with me going out and betting on yourself and maybe being a later pick. Again, if that happens to be the case down the line then that is what it is and that’s great, but with two years of eligibility that didn’t make sense to me so I was like, ‘Let’s give this thing another shot and let’s give it another shot somewhere else and see what can happen.'”
On Tuesday, after the news of his transfer become official, Slovis also posted a farewell to USC on The Players’ Tribune, in which he wrote:
USC will always be a special place to me. But now it’s time for me to start a new chapter. For my next two years of eligibility, I’ll be playing quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh.
I was so excited when Coach Narduzzi called, because I knew that Pitt and this program were the right fit for me to keep developing into the best leader I can be. I’m ready to win now — and talking to the players who are returning, and seeing how hungry they are for next season, that got me pumped. They have a lot of talented players coming back. And, man … getting to throw the ball to the guy who just won the Biletnikoff?? That’s something you don’t pass up. The culture and identity that Coach Narduzzi has created is everything I want to be a part of.
To everyone at USC including my coaches, teammates and the entire staff: Thank you for everything. I’m glad I was a Trojan. I’ll always be one.
And to everyone at Pitt: I’m feeling incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a Panther — and I can’t wait to prove myself again on this stage.