In a historic achievement, USC’s standout freshman, Zachariah Branch, has been named First Team All-American.
Making university history, Branch is the USC Trojans‘ inaugural true freshman to attain First Team All-American status, marking a significant milestone as the Trojans now boast an impressive tally of 176 First Team All-Americans.
USC Trojans Zachariah Branch Named First Team All-American
Branch’s outstanding contributions were recognized by the USA Today All-American First Team, where he earned accolades as a returner. Furthermore, his prowess on the field earned him distinctions such as Second Team All-American from Sports Illustrated as a kick returner, Honorable Mention All-American from CBS Sports as a wide receiver/punt returner, Honorable Mention Freshman All-American from College Football News as a wide receiver, Freshman Specialist of the Year from the College Football Network as a punt returner, and inclusion in the College Football Network Freshman All-American list.
A rising star in his freshman year, Branch amassed 29 receptions for 311 yards and 2 touchdowns during the 2023 season. His versatility was on display as he also showcased his rushing skills with 70 yards on 8 carries, accompanied by 1 touchdown.
Notably, Branch emerged as one of the nation’s most dynamic returners, highlighted by a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against Stanford on Sept. 9 and a spectacular 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown versus San Jose State on Aug. 26. He etched his name in USC history by becoming the first Trojan since Adoree’ Jackson in 2016 to achieve both a punt return and kickoff return for a touchdown, coupled with at least one receiving touchdown in the same season.
Since 1971, a feat accomplished by only three USC players, including the likes of Jackson and Curtis Conway, Branch has solidified his place among the elite.
Closing the regular season with top national rankings, Branch secured the No. 1 spot in punt returns (20.6), No. 2 in combined kick returns (751) and punt return touchdowns (1), and No. 6 in kickoff return touchdowns (1).
Branch will continue to be a mainstay in the special teams next year, but the expectation is that he will make a major leap in offensive usage. His dynamism and athleticism were noticeable, but he was not always featured in the game plan. With the loss of Brenden Rice and Tahj Washington (and most likely Caleb Williams), he will need to be the focal point in 2024.