The Maurice Jones-Drew effect: Why college stars changed their names

ByAdam Rittenberg and Chantel Jennings Via <a Href="" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
December 24, 2015, 7:27 PM

&#151; -- College football players are taught to play for the name on the front of their jerseys. They teach us about themselves with the names on their backs.

Maybe you wondered why JuJu Smith, USC's No. 2 wide receiver in 2014, became JuJu Smith-Schuster this season. Or why Ohio State recruit Eli Woodard became Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple.

From hyphens to new last names, college football has witnessed a surge of name modifications in recent years. As players enter adulthood or approach graduation, more are choosing new names to honor those who have molded them. Some have legally changed their names. Others go back to their legal names for various reasons.

Former UCLA running back Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the first college stars to change his name. Although Jones-Drew was his legal name, he went just by Maurice Drew early in his Bruins career. During the 2005 season, he reinstalled Jones to honor his grandfather, Maurice, who died after suffering a heart attack while attending a UCLA game at the Rose Bowl. The younger Maurice had lived with his grandparents for much of his childhood, and his grandfather guided him toward football. "He was my world," Maurice said of his grandfather.

"That was a dude who opened the doorway for me," said USC linebacker Scott Felix, formerly Scott Starr. "I'd never really heard about people doing that before."

A name change is an inherently personal decision, but college football players recognize the public platform they're on each Saturday. Their name is their brand. Some will be announced by that name in the NFL, where Maurice Drew quickly became MJD.

Every name has a story. So, what's in a name? Find out in the players' own words.

Eli Apple

Ohio State | CB | Senior | Voorhees, New Jersey

Born Eli Woodard, changed his last name to Apple to honor his father, Tim Apple, who entered his life at age 2. He made the change in December 2012, weeks before signing to play for Ohio State.

It's something I always wanted to do, and when I finally reached the right age, I turned 17 and I was going on to college, it was something I wanted to do.

I changed it right when signing day happened. I was already committed, I already knew I was coming here. I didn't really care about the articles. Once I changed it, everybody else will have to figure it out on their own.

I don't remember my biological father, but my stepdad, he's been my real dad ever since I can remember. I didn't even know he wasn't my real dad until I got into middle school, and people were like, 'He looks different than you.' I'd never even thought about it. He's always been there, he's always taken care of me.

He's the one who really loved football. He used to wake me up in the middle of the night to go do drills. He's the main reason why I love football. If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be playing. I wanted to like everything he liked.

It's not completely changed. My driver's license says Woodard right now, until I get a new one. That's something I'll have to do next time I go back home.

You always play for your last name, and that's something I want people to see when they look at me, see my jersey, see that 'Apple.' I want them to think, 'He's going hard for his parents, going hard for his family, trying to protect his last name.' It's something I just wanted to carry on.

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