USC Safety John Plattenburg’s Retirement Could Open Door For Bubba Bolden, Isaiah Pola-Mao

    USC safety John Plattenburg is retiring from football, and that could open the door for true freshmen Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao to snag early playing time with the Trojans.

    March 9, 2017

    USC safety John Plattenburg is retiring from football, and that could open the door for true freshmen Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao to snag early playing time with the Trojans. 

    Early Thursday morning, we learned of some very unfortunate news. USC senior safety John Plattenburg pulled the plug on his football career, retiring from the game he loves due to health reasons, as reported by He missed a large portion of the 2016 season due to a concussion suffered in fall camp.

    Obviously, the first thoughts that come to mind are well wishes for Plattenburg. First and foremost, his health and well-being are the top concerns here. And surely everyone, especially Trojans fans, are wishing him well.

    But from the perspective of the team and USC’s depth chart, this is a major move.

    Plattenburg was set to compete for a starting job at safety, which is weakened by the loss of Leon McQuay. Now, barring any unforeseen changes or injuries, we can safely assume the Trojans will roll with junior Marvell Tell at free safety and redshirt-senior Chris Hawkins at strong safety.

    Plattenburg’s retirement also opens up the door for someone to snag his reps. Redshirt-freshman Jamel Cook, the younger cousin of Dalvin Cook, will likely find playing time behind Tell.

    His name, with as much recognition as it carries, isn’t the one you should be focused on, though. Keep an eye on incoming freshmen Bubba Bolden and Isaiah Pola-Mao.

    The former was a star at Bishop Gorman High School and re-joined the Trojans’ class late in the 2017 recruiting cycle after flirting with other schools such as Ohio State. The latter is the nephew of former USC and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.

    Both were highly recruited. Both are physically built to play right away. Both can lay the wood and smack opponents into yesteryear if they don’t have their head on a swivel.

    It’s highly likely we’ll see both Bolden and Pola-Mao take the field for USC in 2017.

    USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin spoke with Campus Insiders recently and listed both safeties as two of the many incoming freshmen he believes could make an early impact for the Trojans.

    “You look across the class. Man, you look at players from a body-type standpoint and from a mental maturity standpoint. I think the majority of them, in some capacity, can help us as true freshmen. And we’re gonna’ need them to,” Martin said.

    USC will need them more than ever with Plattenburg’s name having vanished from the depth chart.

    Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    Since spring practice for the Trojans began last Thursday, let’s take a quick look at who they’re getting with Bolden and Pola-Mao.

    At 6-foot-2, 192 lbs Bolden is the prototype. He has future first-round pick written all over him, and is a ballhawk in every sense of the word. Bolden consistently puts himself in a position to make a play on the ball, and you trust he’s going to reel it in and put the ball back in your quarterback’s hands — great news for Sam Darnold. He shows great awareness when the ball is tipped up in the air, and when he picks it off, he’s headed to the sideline looking to put six up on the board.

    Bolden breaks quickly on the ball and lives to deliver big hits. It doesn’t matter if you’re streaking down the seam or roaming in the flats, he will find you, and he will hurt you.

    The body control and footwork are there. As he learns the playbook and the nuances of playing the position at the collegiate level, he’ll be one of the best in the country before long.

    When it comes to Pola-Mao, it’s difficult to not try to compare him to his uncle. At 6-foot-4, 190 lbs, Pola-Mao has a much different frame than Polamalu did – he was 5-foot-10, 207 lbs – But Pola-Mao is just as physical as his uncle was at this stage, and that’s exciting for USC fans.

    Pola-Mao is looking to seek and destroy when he steps out onto the field. If you’re running a dig route, Pola-Mao is breaking as soon as he sees you cut, and he’s flying in with a vicious shoulder — off-the-top-rope style.

    His timing over the middle is impeccable. While you’d like for him to look for the ball a little more, coaches can live with him serving as the enforcer deep down the field. He’s excellent in run support, and he’ll swarm to the ball. In Cover 2 looks, he looks as comfortable as he’s ever been, like he belongs there. Pola-Mao does a great job of roaming over and undercutting nine routes, and he’ll pick off a few passes as well. The ball skills aren’t as impressive as Bolden’s, but they are there.

    The bottom line is both Bolden and Pola-Mao are supremely gifted, coachable safeties. They could easily develop into the most feared safeties in all of college football within the next two or three years.

    And we’ll probably get an extended preview of their games this season now that Plattenburg has retired.

    MORE: Pac-12 Football Projections, Storylines For 2017 Season


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