Zachariah Branch of the USC Trojans has secured the prestigious Jet Award, an annual recognition bestowed upon the nation’s most outstanding return specialist. A panel of media experts from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and former Jet Award winners, carefully selected Branch as the recipient.
This marks the 13th presentation of the award, and Branch joins the esteemed ranks of previous winners such as Adoree’ Jackson, a former Trojan who claimed the honor in 2016, as well as notable NFL figures like Christian McCaffrey (2015) and Tyler Lockett (2014).
Branch, a standout freshman, has earned recognition as one of the nation’s most dynamic returners. Concluding the 2023 season, he led the nation in punt returns with an average of 20.8 yards, secured the second position in punt return touchdowns (1), ranked third in combined kick returns (774 yards), and held the sixth spot in kickoff return touchdowns (1).
Branch’s illustrious season includes a 75-yard punt return touchdown against Stanford on Sept. 9 and a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown versus San Jose State on Aug. 26. Branch becomes the first Trojan since Adoree’ Jackson in 2016 to achieve both a punt return and kickoff return for a touchdown, along with at least one receiving touchdown in the same season.
Rarified Air For USC Trojans WR Zachariah Branch
Since 1971, only three USC players, including Branch, have accomplished this feat, joining the ranks of Jackson and Curtis Conway (1992).
Branch has etched his name in USC history as the university’s first-ever true freshman First Team All-American. His accolades include being named a USA Today First Team All-American as a returner, a PFF First Team All-American as a return specialist, and a Sporting News First Team All-American as a punt returner.
Related: USC Trojans Transfer Portal Tracker
In addition to his prowess as a return specialist, Branch capped off the season with an average of 10.3 yards per reception. His 2023 stats include 31 catches for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 70 rushing yards on 9 carries and 1 rushing touchdown.
Furthermore, Branch secured spots on the Walter Camp All-American Second Team and the FWAA All-American Second Team as a kick returner, an unprecedented achievement for a freshman. His recognition extends to Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Action Sports, CBS Sports, Sports Info Solutions, College Football News, College Football Network, and Phil Steele All-Pac-12 First Teamer as a punt returner, among various other accolades.