The Awards keep pouring in for Zach Branch

Branch is the award’s 13th winner, joining former Trojan Adoree’ Jackson who won the award in 2016, and other notable NFL stars like Christian McCaffrey (2015) and Tyler Lockett (2014). 

(Courtesy Photo)

 

Earl Heath 

Contributing Sports Writer

 Zach Branch has the awards keep coming in. His recent one is the JET Award.
The Jet Award is presented annually to the nation’s most outstanding return specialist. A media panel made up of members of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and former Jet Award winners selected Branch.

Branch is the award’s 13th winner, joining former Trojan Adoree’ Jackson who won the award in 2016, and other notable NFL stars like Christian McCaffrey (2015) and Tyler Lockett (2014). 

Branch, a freshman superstar, is one of the nation’s most electric returners. He finished the 2023 season leading the nation in punt returns (20.8 avg.) and was No. 2 in punt return TDs (1), No. 3 in combined kick returns (774 yards) and No. 6 in kickoff return TDs (1).

Against Stanford on Sept. 9, he returned a punt for a 75-yard TD in the second quarter. He also had a 96-yard kickoff return for a TD vs. San Jose State on Aug. 26. He is the first Trojan since Adoree’ Jackson in 2016 to have a punt return and kickoff return for a TD, as well as at least one receiving TD in the same season. Jackson had 2 punt returns and 2 kickoff returns for TDs and 1 TD reception during the 2016 season. 

Since 1971 (when records are available) Branch is one of just 3 USC players to accomplish the feat, joining Jackson and Curtis Conway (1992 – 1 kickoff return TD, 1 punt return TD, 5 rec TDs). 

Along with being a dynamic returner, Branch, a wide receiver, also finished the season averaging 10.3 yards per reception. In 2023, he collected 31 catches for 320 yards and 2 TDs and rushed for 70 yards on 9 carries with 1 TD.  

Branch is USC’s first-ever true freshman First Team All-American, after 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. 

Branch was also named to the Walter Camp All-American Second Team and the FWAA All-American Second Team as a kick returner. He is the only freshman to earn placement on either of those teams.  

Additionally, he was named a Sports Illustrated Second Team All-American as a kick returner, a FOX Sports Second Team All-American as a kick returner, an Action Sports Second Team All-American as an all-purpose player. 

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