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Helton talks challenges, opportunities amid spring shutdown

Even without spring ball, USC Trojans head coach Clay Helton has plenty on his plate. He joined Trojans Live on Monday night to discuss how he’s running his program when COVID-19 has stopped his program from running.

Helton discussed his parting words to his players as they left campus and returned to their homes, as well as what steps he and his coaches have been able to take to continue progressing toward the 2020 football season. The following is a full transcript of his appearance.

Helton on his parting conversation to the team:

“We’re going through something right now that’s a little bit bigger than football, and the safety and health of our student athletes is our No. 1 priority. And then the second priority is them having the services they need while they’re home to really still thrive as a student athlete. Going through those services that we supplied academically—the academic tutor system via Zoom, their classes via Zoom. We’ve got 30 kids coming off of surgeries since August 1—making sure they have their physical therapists in their area that they can get to. The availability with Aaron Ausmus to provide at-home workouts that they can do from home. And then just checking up on them and making sure that mental health-wise, they’re doing okay—they’re going through this and getting through this. And this too, will end. It’s a little bit just making sure that they’re okay as they’re going through something that not only themselves, but none of us really have been through something like this before. And making sure their well-being is first at hand.”

Helton on how he is checking in on his players:

“What an amazing product Zoom is. I don’t know how we’ve lived without it. It’s been a tremendous tool for us. We have three staff meetings a week, on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, to be able to coordinate information in recruiting and player engagement. And it’s been not only coach to staff, but it’s also been coach to player. We’re still allowed two hours a week to be able to be with our kids and talk football. Being able to use Zoom, having some player engagement, and talk the game and still install a defensive system that’s new to us, and have those conversations are important. And to be able to sit there and be able to visit with your staff and address issues that come up, whether it’s with our players, their parents, our staff, operations, recruiting, it’s constant communication with each other. So, a lot of Zoom meetings right now.”

Helton on whether he is watching Alabama film:

“Technology nowadays. The XOS ThunderCloud System that we all have on our laptops and our iPads, has been able to not only work on some opponent scouting early in the season, but really some self-improvement, too, to study other teams, both college and pro, that are doing some good things, and have some self-development as a coach.”

Helton on strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus’ plan for the players:

“I thought Double A (Ausmus) was a genius. He went and made a private Instagram account for our players. He put a workout together, Monday, Wednesday, Friday—a lot of bodyweight material as well as a light running program that they can do, again, practicing our social distancing. But it’s something that they can do from home. It made me laugh, I saw Brandon Pili the other day put his sister on his back—who’s also a great player—and was doing some body squats. So, we’re all adapting, but I really like what Aaron did. I thought it was very innovative. The players have gotten into it and it’s just a simple program that they can do throughout the week to be able to still practice. A little mind, body and soul, throughout the week.”

Helton’s message to his team about academics while away from campus:

“We spent nine weeks of just accountability to each other when it came to our classes, when it came to getting extra sleep, being able to put our best foot forward in strength and conditioning. Just because we’re at home, that accountability doesn’t stop. We’re sitting here, it’s almost April now. We literally have about a month and a half until the end of the semester. And that next month and a half is not only important to our student athletes, but it’s important to our students also, to realize there’s a level of discipline here. Let’s get online. Let’s make sure we’re staying accountable to our classes. And let’s go dominate. Let’s go put our best foot forward and finish this semester on a great note.”

Helton on installing a new defense without spring ball:

“It really started prior to spring ball. We invested four weeks prior to spring ball, two hours a week, of being able to do installation meetings as well as walkthroughs. So we really got a little bit of a head start walking into that Practice 1. Now, being at home, it’s more visual. It’s more communicative through Zoom, through our phone conversations with our players—being able to talk ball, still using that two hours a week to be able to engage them. And hopefully when we get back, whatever time period that is—we’re hoping to be able to use the summer. I know the Pac-12 has a task force right now that is discussing what we’re going to be able to do over summer, maybe a little bit more than strength and conditioning. Maybe some things that look like OTAs, maybe some opportunities to still do those meetings and walkthroughs, and hopefully be able to engage our players because there are new staffs out there. There’s new head coaches that are bringing new staffs and new systems in. There’s teams in our situations, trying to put a new defensive system in, as well as some new special teams thoughts together. So it is an important time when we do get back together that we’re able to utilize those things. And I know the Pac-12 as well as the NCAA is trying to come together to see what’s that going to look like once we’re able to get back.”

Helton on his favorite football movie to watch during quarantine:

“I love Remember the Titans. I think this last week we’ve watched Get Out, Us, and A Quiet Place, so I’ve had my hands over my eyes a lot this past week with these thrillers. I’m looking forward to getting back to Remember the Titans.”

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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