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USC Rose Bowl selection comes on the heels of tragic loss

Cassandra Cousineau | OW Contributor | 12/15/2016, midnight
The USC Trojans are once again headed to the “Granddaddy of them All.” The team will square off in the ...

The USC Trojans are once again headed to the “Granddaddy of them All.” The team will square off in the Rose Bowl against Big Ten champ Penn State on Jan. 2. The Men of Troy will make the 17-mile drive to Pasadena on New Year’s Day.

Despite a rough start, USC closed out the regular season with nine straight wins. The team stumbled out of the gate to a 1-3 record, but followed up with season-defining victories over both Washington and Colorado.

This will be USC’s 34th Rose Bowl appearance, more than any other team. The Trojans last played in the iconic game back in 2009, where they faced off against the Nittany Lions. USC won that game 38-24.

It’s a bittersweet draw for the university and its football program mourning the loss of a family member. Former running back, Joe McKnight, was killed in an apparent road rage incident in New Orleans on Dec. 1.

The investigation has received national attention after the admitted shooter, 54-year-old Ronald Gasser, was charged with manslaughter—four days after the authorities faced widespread criticism for initially freeing him.

The West Jefferson, La., NAACP went on record to say the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office hasn’t done enough after its arrest of Gasser.

“He should have been charged with a higher charge. Manslaughter is like a slap on the wrist or to pacify the community,” said Gaylor Spiller, president of the West Jefferson Chapter of the NAACP.

McKnight was a Louisiana native where he played high school football and admitted that part of his decision to attend USC instead of LSU was influenced by a phone call from then-Heisman winner, Reggie Bush. Both attended USC, but the year McKnight arrived was the same year in which Bush left for the NFL. Despite not playing on the field together, the pair was still able to build a friendship over the years.

The 28-year-old declared for the NFL Draft in 2010 and was taken in the fourth round by the New York Jets. Before the Jets play the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, they will honor McKnight with a moment of silence.

Bush, currently playing for the Buffalo Bills, took to Twitter to express his sadness and displayed a special pair of cleats he intended to wear to honor his friend during the NFL’s “My Cleats” campaign in week 13 against the Raiders.

The “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, was launched to allow players to customize their cleats to honor a charity, foundation, or organization of their choice in an effort to help raise awareness for each cause.

The birth date on the cleats was incorrect when Bush first posted the photo; McKnight was born on April 16, 1988, not 1983. In a follow-up tweet, Bush said “the painter messed up, but you guys get the point.” He said it will be fixed by game time.

USC will run out of the tunnel to great expectations for a football game at the top of the year. A game that brings the sanctity of life into prospective every time it’s played.