Give 3 things you are thankful for with Trojan football this year
I’m thankful for the moves that Clay Helton has made to put us in this position. It’s been a growing year for the Trojans, both players and coaches, and Helton has grown as much as anybody on the job. He was faced early on with a tough personnel choice (Helton called it toughest move because of fondness for Browne) and while you can debate the timing of the move you have to acknowledge that he made it, with extremely positive results. He seems to have found his identity in coaching style with a more workman-like attitude at practice, a focus on teaching. His team has become increasingly more physical, they are well prepared, and they showed last week that they can take a punch and respond. All of that (and a lot more) reflects well on Helton and the moves he has made.
I’m thankful that one of those moves was Sam Darnold. We all felt for Max Browne at the time and wish him well at his next destination but you simply can’t argue with the transformation that has taken over this football team since Darnold was inserted as the starter. It’s been one of the most impressive stretches of play to come out of the gate for any freshman quarterback that I can remember seeing. Where do you even start with what you like about his play? The attacking style. The ability to shrug off adversity and bounce right back. The way he can zip the ball or also show touch. The way he gives his receivers a chance to make a play, and spreads the ball around. His running ability. I like all of it. Sure, there are some interceptions or turnovers that come around but I will take them as part of the Sam package, there is too much other good stuff that comes along with having him as our quarterback.
I’m thankful that we’re sitting here in the final week of the regular season and the Trojans are once again relevant in the national college football discussion. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the part of the discussion that I eventually want to be in, I want to get back to the point where the Trojans are wielding the big stick in college football. But for right now I will be happy with people recognizing that we’re playing very good football, as good as any team in the country. It’s been a while since we’ve been playing for Rose Bowls, much less national championships, and it will be nice to get back to the point where USC is a part of these end-of-season discussions on a more regular basis.
Sam Darnold. While there are number of contributing factors that have gone into the tremendous turnaround of USC’ season, the most significant one has to be the play of the redshirt-freshman quarterback. His playmaking skills are off the charts, and with his ability to spread the ball around to all of his weapons, the offense has played at a high level ever since he took the reins as the starter. In just his second year in the program, you have to imagine that he’s still only going to get better, and if he does, it’s not hard to imagine him making a run at the Heisman next season.
The resiliency of this year’s Trojans team. There are some teams that, at 1-3, would have flat-out quit. Fortunately for USC fans, the players had way too much heart for that, and when it’s all said and done, that might be what this year’s squad will be most remembered for. Veteran leaders like Michael Hutchings and Zach Banner deserve plenty of credit in this respect, as do the Trojans coaches.
Clay Helton. There was no one who took more criticism early on this season, and much of it was probably deserved. To Helton’s credit, however, he’s shown tremendous growth as a head coach over the last two months, and he’s obviously played a major role in the team’s turnaround – all while maintaining the same down-to-earth, “faith, family, football” demeanor that he arrived on campus with as an assistant. The way that his players have rallied around him, and have bought into his message has been special to see.
I am thankful that a difficult quarterback change was made early in the season, and Sam Darnold proved to be what everybody saw in practices. What Darnold has done in terms of productions and influence at so many levels on both sides of the ball is nothing short of miraculous. He has literally turned the program around and ignited enthusiasm and interest both inside and outside the program. he has affected not only each and every team member but the fan base, as well. No. 14 has injected USC football back to being USC football. Sam’s handling of the attention from the beginning and expectations throughout the balance of the season has been at the All-America level. At his current progress, he can be one of the best quarterbacks to ever wear the cardinal and gold.
I am thankful for Clay Helton remaining the consummate gentleman, even when he was on the hottest of hot seats with the Trojans starting at 1-3. He has never changed demeanor towards his program and the media. What you see is what you get, real credit in a profession that can be at times disingenuous and unforgiving at times. Through the early turmoil, Helton continued to live up to his family values and sometimes warranted criticism. For not ever having ever been a head coach at any level – especially at a storied football university like USC – Helton appears to be guiding and moving towards a momentous regular season conclusion and one of the great turnarounds in recent Trojans football history. Although there’s still much to accomplish before stamping a final assessment on Helton’s first season, he has defied and fought the odds to be on the cusp of a very rewarding first year.
I am thankful to the 2016 team for weathering the awful start to the season and not packing it in. This team has improved each week, a credit to them and the coaching staff. For the amount of warranted criticism at times, difficult early schedule, and a new coaching staff still feeling its way around, the players continued absorb a new system and coaching staff. They held together through thick and thin, and we’re seeing the rewards of that togetherness. It hasn’t been easy and there are still at least two big games to go, but these players, much like Pete Carroll’s 2002 team, can lay the foundation for great future success if Helton and his staff can take advantage of the intense recruiting wars to follow. Yes, it’s still hard to believe probably a little farfetched, but it could still be a very Happy New Years on a number of occasions, especially if all the pieces fall into place and you know what I am talking about.
The one thing the USC program needed following a tumultuous few years of sanctions and coaching changes was . . . STABILITY. And I am thankful that Coach Clay Helton has brought not only stability, but a set of VALUES the program can build upon.
Defense wins championships is a much debated mantra in football. But what can’t be debated is how much more efficient a team is if the defensive unit is improved. I am thankful for Clancy Pendergast and his Staff for improving the players on that side of the ball throughout this season. Their growth has been as important a part of the turnaround the Trojans have experienced as any factor this season.
It may not be popular, but I am also thankful for Pat Haden. He took over as athletic director at a difficult time for SC’s flagship football program. And while not all of his decisions ended up the way we all would have liked, if you look at his record with the other athletic programs, the Coliseum project, and academic progress . . . it gets very good marks. And now his hiring of Clay Helton is moving the football program in the right direction. No one has more love for USC than Haden, and he has sacrificed a great deal for the University . . . and for that, I am thankful.