25 min Read

IMHO Sunday: The Clay Helton post-spring practice media scrum that never was

In my humble opinion, cardinal and gold thoughts on what I see, what I hear, and what I think from Los Angeles.

Yesterday: If not for the “C” (AKA coronavirus) word, Saturday would have been the official end to spring ball, and Clay Helton would have addressed the media one final time before heading into the off-season. So, let’s eavesdrop on a fictional final spring wrap-up with the media that never was.  

Yesterday – Part 2: When asked at the post-spring practice media conference that never was to comment on a final spring depth chart, Gentleman Clay (adjusting his baseball cap) would have said, “First, hi every-body, I’ve missed you good folks, I really have.

“I’ll release a depth chart on the Friday before the Saturday season opener with Alabama in Arlington, Texas. I don’t want to take away the edge of competition because this team worked so doggone hard this spring. I just love this team, and it’s a very special group of young men. In fact, our fans are really going to fall in love with this group. They have a chance to be the best team I’ve had as a head coach at this special university. I expect come next November this team will be running on all cylinders like a championship NASCAR vehicle at the Texas Motor Speedway.

“Let me digress a moment and thank Dr. Folt and Coach Bohn for giving me the continuing opportunity to be the head coach at the University of Southern California. This is a special place with special people, and we’re now all working on the same page with the same goals. Like I said before (face turning serious and humble), thanks to Dr. Folt and Coach Bohn, I’ve now got the resources to take the program to the next level.”

In the post-spring practice media conference that never was, Clay Helton would have thanked USC athletic director Mike Bohn (photo above on left) and USC President Carol Folt ( photo above on right) for retaining his services and providing more support for the football program.

Yesterday – Part 3: Clay Helton would have been asked about the quarterback competition, and the coach would have told the media, “It’s too early to say that Kedon (Slovis) is the absolute starter, but based on last season, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. Kedon is so in command of Coach Harrell’s offense, and it really showed this spring. However, we’re all about competition here at USC, there’s no guarantees, and we know that J.T.(Daniels) and Matty (Fink) are going to load up their six-shooters, get their bullets in the chamber, and compete (chuckle) like crazy in training camp. Just the thought of it (chuckle) makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up from excitement.

“I know many of you are now aware that JT is putting his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal, and we support whatever he and his family feel is best for him. However, like Matty (Fink), we’ll keep the door open for JT to return, and regardless of his decision, this young man will forever always be part of the Trojan family and have a special place in my heart. As ya’all know, I am a quarterback coach by trade, so I will sit down with Coach Harrell and we’ll have a plan for all our quarterbacks, scholarship and walk-ons, going into training camp.”

Quarterback JT Daniels (photo above) has put his name in the NCAA Transfer Portal, and his USC future appears to be up in the air.

Yesterday – Part 4: The next question to be asked would have been Coach Helton’s assessment of the offensive line and its progress. The coach would have said, “Coach Drev(no) is really one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country and has done a masterful job this spring with the O-line. I am so excited by what they’ve accomplished this spring. I think this group can be one of the elite groups in the country.

In the never was post-spring media conference, Clay Helton would have praised offensive line coach Tim Drevno (photo above) for his excellent work in the spring with his offensive lineman.

“Ya’all know, I am the son of an offensive line coach and know a very good offensive line when I see it. Losing an Austin Jackson at left tackle early hurts, but it’s a tribute to Austin, his family, and Coach Drev how this young man was prepared and is now ready for the NFL. I was impressed this spring with the move of Alijah Vera-Tucker to left tackle, and he actually performed even better than we anticipated. I think the surprise of spring was the play of Justin Dedich, who is our jack-of-all-trades at either guard or center. I could see Justin really competing his butt off for one of the guard positions. And, boy, Andrew Vorhees, he’s now as strong as a Texas steer. He’s just so physical, a specimen, a junkyard dog.”  

Yesterday – Part 5:
The next question to be asked would have been about the running backs pecking order. Helton would have said, “Coach Jinks (chuckle) has an embarrassment of riches at the running back position. We’ve got four really good backs in Stephen (Carr), Vavae (Malepeai), Markese (Stepp), and Kenan (Christon).

In the never was post-spring media conference, running back Stephen Carr (photo above) would have drawn praise along with his other running backs from head coach Clay Helton.

“Man, I can’t think of a better group of four backs in the country. Each of them brings a little something different to the table. It’s important, however, we get Markese back to full strength because he’s kind of our physical bulldozer. By golly, he’s (chuckle) a load.”

Yesterday – Part 6:
The next question to be asked: Is this the best group of wide receivers he’s been around at USC? Helton would have said, “Lord have mercy (chuckle). The good Lord has really blessed us at this position group. Coach Keary (Colbert) must feel like a Texas pig in slop with such elite talent. We are so blessed to have these outstanding receivers.

In the never was post-spring media conference, wide receiver Keary Colbert (photo above) would have been happy seeing so much talent in his position group.

“I would say that to have the likes of an Amon-Ra St. Brown, a Tyler Vaughns, and the return of Drake London brings such a smile to the old ball coach (chuckle). You add to the mix a Kyle Ford, a Bru McCoy, and Lord have mercy, a true freshman like Gary Bryant from that great Corona Centennial program, and you can see why our quarterbacks can’t wait to get to training camp.”

In the never was post-spring media conference, praise by Clay Helton would have been directed at true freshman wide receiver Gary Bryant (photo above), who would have shined in spring ball.

Yesterday – Part 7: The next question to be asked would have been the progress of the tight ends. Helton would have said, “We have a great group of tight ends, we really do. I am so proud of what they’ve accomplished this spring. I think they may have done the most maturing and made the most progress of any unit this spring.

“I know Coach Baker, who is really going to be a rising star in our business, and I have complete confidence in Daniel Imatorbhebhe, Josh Falo, Erik Krommenhoek, and youngsters like Ethan Rae and Jude Wolf. I think that Krommenhoek will be playing on Sundays in the future. No doubt, we are going to be throwing to our tight ends next season; they are too good not to be involved in next season’s offense. I know a lot of you think you’ve heard the old ball coach say that every year, but next season it’s going to be true.”

In the never was post-spring media conference, the return of tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (photo above) would have shined in spring ball.

From the press box…

Yesterday – Part 8: The next series of questions would be directed towards the progress of the defense, and the first question to Helton would be his overall assessment of new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and the defense in general. Helton would have said, “My goodness (chuckle), Coach Orlando brings it every day. He’s like a Texas cyclone out there, an amazing coach. Coach O gets everybody juiced up every day and that is so infectious.  

In the never was post-spring media conference, new Trojans defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (photo above) would have been praised for his energy on the practice field.

“I love our defense. The kids have really bought into Coach Orlando’s system, which fits our personnel perfectly. The players believe in him, his system, and so do I. I wouldn’t want to (chuckle) be the opponent’s offensive coordinator facing a Todd Orlando defense. I think he’s one of the top DC coaches in America, and we’re truly fortunate to have him. I think one of the best things Coach O accomplished this spring was moving players into positions to make them successful. How would I compare Coach Orlando to Coach Pendergast? Coach Pendergast is a great, great coach, and we wish him the very best. And like I said, we are so blessed to have Coach Orlando, who I think is at the right place at the right time.” 

Yesterday – Part 9: The next question to be asked would have been the progress of the defensive line. Helton would have said, “Man, what a physical group we have. They (loud chuckle) are just tigers out there looking for prey. I know our quarterbacks are sure glad they wear yellow shirts and can’t get sacked by this group of men – and I mean men. Having a Jay Tufele back on the D-line takes us to another level. I was telling Ms. Angela last night at supper that we’re so blessed to have Jay return. He’s going to be a great player in the NFL, but we’re so excited to have him again in our corner. Jay’s got some really good teammates on that unit like Marlon (Tuipulotu), Brandon Pili, and what can you say about Drake Jackson. He’s a stud horse, a fabulous talent with a really bright future here.

In the never was post-spring media conference, defensive tackle Jay Tufele (photo above) would have been recognized as a dominant spring performer.

“If you ask me who was the surprise player from this spring along the D-line – and I think Coach So’oto would tell you the same – it was Caleb Tremblay. Caleb really took a leadership role this spring. He has developed into the type of player we thought he’d be when we recruited him out of American River Community College. I’ll say this, opponent’s better set their jaws (soft chuckle) because all our D-linemen are the type of guys you’d want in a fox hole with you when the bullets are flying.”

Yesterday – Part 10: The next question to be asked would have been the linebacking situation. Helton would have said, “We’ve got some real heat seeking missiles at the linebacking positions. I wouldn’t want to meet Palaie Geoteote head on. That’s a concussion (loud and giddy chuckle) waiting to happen, Lord have mercy. If we can get “Solo” (Solomon Tuliapupu) right, we can really be elite at the inside linebacker position. And let’s not forget Ralen Goforth, who has star written all over him. We are so blessed to have him on our team from that great Gardena Serra program, led by Coach Altenberg. Coach has done an amazing job at Serra.”

In the never was post-spring media conference, inside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote (photo above) would have impressed Coach Helton with his hard-hitting spring performances.

Yesterday – Part 11: The next to last question to be asked would have been addressing the Trojans’ secondary. Coach Helton would have said, “I was really pleased with what Coach Naivar did with the secondary. Goodness gracious sakes, coach is one of a kind. I like our aggressiveness, and I just loved the play this spring of corner Olaijah Griffin and the versatility of Greg Johnson. They just fit into Coach Naivar’s philosophy so beautifully.

In the never was post-spring media conference, Trojans’ corner Olaijah Griffin (photo above by Laura Domingue) would have received kudos from both Clay Helton and secondary coach Donte Williams.

“And Lord almighty, our safeties are so physical, and Coach Naivar has done a masterful job with them, as well. The old ball coach can’t help smiling when you have safeties like Talanoa (Hufanga) and Isaiah (Pola-Mao). Goodness gracious, they can really make you feel (loud chuckle) like you just got hit by a Mack truck. I am just glad they’re on our side.”

In the never was post-spring media conference, Clay Helton would have said how impressed with the energy and coaching provided by secondary coach Craig Naivar (photo above).

Yesterday – Part 12: The final question to be asked would have been the positives of opening up the season against a powerhouse team like Alabama. Helton would have said, “Knowing that we’re opening up against Alabama will have our players focused in all summer and into training camp. Coach Saban is a living legend, and it will be an honor again to coach against him and his team. They have been the benchmark program that the rest of us aspire to be like. USC and Alabama, it’s what college football is all about, and I know our fans are looking forward to it. It will be (chuckle) one helleva game.

In the never was post-spring media conference, Clay Helton would have told the media that he and his team would be looking forward to their rematch against Alabama to start the 2020 season. The 2016 Trojans (photo above) were very animated coming out of the AT&T Stadium tunnel to face the Crimson Tide four years ago.

“I know our fans are really itching for the season to arrive, and I understand their past frustration, but so is everybody in our program. The expectations of USC football is at the highest level as it should be. Our history and storied past demands that we win championships, and I think we are going to accomplish that goal in 2020.”

The post-game show…

Leave it to Beavers: FS/SS Anthony Beavers (6-2, 175/Harbor City, Calif./ Narbonne High), has announced he’s going to be a Trojan. In a sense, it’s a coach Donte Williams strike over Oregon. It was assumed that Beavers was a lock to Oregon until Coach Donte left the Ducks and arrived at USC and changed the whole dynamics of Beavers’ recruiting. An original Oregon commit last April, Beavers also considered Arizona State, Florida, Texas A&M, Michigan State, San Diego State and Virginia Tech.

Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne High secondary performer Anthony Beavers (photo above) made a verbal commitment to the Trojans this past week.

To the Max: OG Maximus Gibbs (6-6, 360/ Bellflower (Calif.)/ St. John Bosco) has made a verbal to Troy. A lot of upside in “Max” and this is the type of recruit that the Trojans need for a successful future offensive line. Max, who is somewhat raw but with a lot of upside, announced for the Trojans over  Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. O-line coach Tim Drevno and the USC staff knew that Gibbs was a “must” get. The man-child is considered the second best offensive lineman in the state.

Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco offensive guard Maximus Gibbs (drawing above) made a verbal commitment to the Trojans this past week.

LA story recruit: WR/CB/SS Calen Bullock (6-2, 170/ Pasadena (Calif.)/ John Muir) made a verbal late Saturday afternoon. Calen was also pursued by  ASU, Florida, and others. This is yet another Donte Williams recruit. When the Trojans’ staff talks about putting a fence around the Los Angeles recruiting area, Calen Bullock fits into that category.

Trojans recruiting demon and secondary coach Donte Williams (photo above) has flipped Pasadena (Calif.) John Muir athlete Calen Bullock to USC from Oregon and withstood a surge by Texas.
The Trojans recruiting mantra “Take Back The West” continues to make major inroads into keeping the LA talent at home (photo above).

The draft: For those looking for something that looks normal in the sports world, Thursday night the NFL draft will hold its not-so-normal first round, which means that NFL general managers will be announcing their draft picks from their personal home. According to the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell will open the draft proceedings from his home, as well.

The draft – Part 2: The broadcast schedule for the draft on a daily basis is as follows: Thursday, April 23, 8-11:30 p.m ET/5-8:30 PT.
Round 1: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio

Some NFL draft experts are predicting that USC offensive left tackle Austin Jackson (photo above) could be taken in the late first round on Thursday evening.

Friday, April 24, 7-11:30 p.m. ET/4 -8:30 p.m. PT
Rounds 2-3: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio

Former Trojans wide receiver Michael Pittman (photo above) is expected to be taken in the second round of this week’s NFL draft.

Saturday, April 25, 12-7 p.m. ET/9 a.m. – 4 p.m. PT
Rounds 4-7: ABC, ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Radio

The call-in show…

Caller No. 1: Sir, what did you think of the announcement that JT Daniels is heading into the NCAA Transfer Portal? If JT had asked me about entering the portal, I would have said he should strongly consider it. Let’s face it, the kid is smart and can see the writing on the wall. JT would have been a backup for Kedon Slovis, assuming he would have been the No. 2 quarterback ahead of Matt Fink. With the 2020 season in serious doubt, JT will now have plenty of time to find a place to play if he so chooses and a chance to go through a spring practice to compete  for his new destination. Of course, JT is waiting to find out if the NCAA decides in May that transfers get a one-time immediate eligibility option, which would certainly play a part in his decision. IMHO, the big winner is Matt Fink, who is – at the moment – now the clear backup for Kedon Slovis.   

With JT Daniels in the NCAA Transfer Portal, it appears that Trojans quarterback Matt Fink (photo above) is again slotted as Kedon Slovis’s backup.

Caller No. 2: Greg, it sure looks like new secondary coach Donte Williams is making a major recruiting impact. It’s pretty impressive how quickly the addition of Donte has played in the current USC recruiting surge. No doubt, Williams is not done yet, and Clay Helton must be thanking his lucky stars that Donte is part of his staff.  

Caller No. 3: Katz, do you think the Trojans will finally get a 5-star recruit for the Class of 2021? The Trojans already have one 5-star in quarterback Jake Garcia (La Habra, Calif./ La Habra). With this coaching staff, I think it’s possible for the Trojans to get as many as four 5-star recruits, which illustrates how important recruiting effort, motivation, and teamwork can be. Even if the Trojans remain with one 5-star recruit, it would be one more than they got based on last recruiting season’s results.

Considered the No. 1 national recruit, Corona (Calif.) Centennial defensive lineman Kory Foreman (photo above) is currently a Clemson verbal, but the Trojans, with a new defensive coaching staff, are hopeful that Foreman will reconsider the Men of Troy.

Caller No. 4: Grego, how do you think the coronavirus will affect recruiting for the Class of 2021? I don’t think it will have a negative effect on the upcoming class at all. If anything, it might end up being a positive as local players may feel more comfortable playing at home during these difficult times. I do think with the new energy and organization of the new coaches that the Trojans will do very well locally. As for future recruiting classes after 2021, evaluating without recruiting camps and perhaps even without prep football games in the coming fall may not affect the Class of 2022 all that much because it has been pretty much evaluated, but it could affect recruiting classes after that.

Despite the coronavirus threat, the Trojans are off to a hot start for the recruiting class of 2021 as illustrated by the verbal from 5-star quarterback Jake Garcia (photo above), who is now at La Habra (Calif.) High..

Caller No. 5: Mr. Meow, what precautions are you taking with your lifestyle in adjusting to the coronavirus? Like you, one has to be creative in these dangerous and uncertain times. First, I feel fortunate to live in California where the state government – regardless of political affiliation – was ahead of most states in the union. As for me, I am not a risk taker, so I stay at home, which is my personal comfort zone. I have my groceries brought to me by Instacart and have my medical prescriptions delivered by CVS Pharmacy (free delivery). The biggest pain is cleaning every item of grocery and even the bottle of meds. I find that exhausting. For me, I find fear is a great motivator to do what needs to be done – like stay home. The option is obvious: Either clean everything, stay home, or risk being in a hospital on a ventilator. I’ll pass on the latter option.      

The final word: Although we basically deal in football here, we would be remiss not to send our best wishes to one of the truly great Trojan basketball players, Gus Williams, who suffered a stroke in February. Gus was beyond adjectives to describe his ability as a guard. A great one who was a major player in building the history of USC basketball, Gus will and should be always in the hoops consciousness of Trojans basketball fans everywhere. A speedy recover to No. 10!

All Trojan fans are hoping for a speedy recovery for legendary USC basketball guard Gus Williams (photo above), who suffered a stroke in February.

Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

More Articles By Greg