Southern Cal football coach Clay Helton took the stage at Pac-12 Media Days on Thursday, along with quarterback Sam Darnold and linebacker Cameron Smith. Much was discussed during their time with the media in Hollywood, Calif., but we’ve parsed down the most important info.
High expectations are embraced at USC
Sam Darnold is a self-professed “quarterback nerd”
Darnold: “I’m definitely a quarterback nerd. I love playing the position, I love studying the position. Definitely look for advice anywhere I can get it. I have a blast with it, and it’s always been fun.”
Who does he study?
“Tom Brady is a great one to look at just because he’s not known necessarily as being the most athletic guy. But the way he moves in the pocket, the way he goes about making his reads and going through his progressions, it’s something that I’ve taken away and tried to implement into my game. And then obviously guys like Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, guys who can move around and make plays. I try to watch them and implement things they do into my game as well.”
Linebacker group could be one the best
Smith: “Porter [Gustin] is special. His work ethic is … I’ll put his work ethic up against anyone in the country. It’s insane to watch him do what he does every day. He grinds and it’s all for the team. He’s a complete team guy. Uchenna Nwosu is freakishly athletic. I’d say him and Sam are the most competitive people on that field on our team. He won’t say anything when he loses, but he will let you know when he wins. And he always wins. He dominates. His personality and his style of leading is really important for our team right now.”
(Smith didn’t talk about himself, but he is a preseason All-Pac-12 linebacker and is on the watch list for the Bednarik and Butkus awards.)
Relationships more important to Helton than wins, losses
Helton: “I understood how important relationships are. I had a huge advantage being with myself. I had been at USC for six years. Part of being a head coach is having the trust and relationship with your players that when you are in adverse times, that they trust the process. They trust when you tell them they’re getting better each and every week, that they trust you’re saying the right things to them and being brutally honest with them.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned last year, it’s not all about the Xs and Os, it’s about the relationships with 18- to 21-year-olds and how important that is. Not in the good times, that’s easy, but when things — that adverse situation comes up — how you deal with it.”
The WR corps is young, but ultra talented
Helton: “I tell you, one that stood out to me that had a really good spring was Velus Jones, to see his explosiveness. Some of the things he could do not only as a receiver, but coming out of the backfield, some of the things that Adoree’ [Jackson] had done for us, I think is going to be a huge help. I’d love to see the progression of Michael Pittman, also, and the way he’s accepting his role. Then it was nice to see Tyler Vaughns and Josh Imatorbhebhe after a redshirt year really starting to learn the system. You can see the light bulbs kind of clicking on.
“What I’m most excited about, you have Joseph Lewis and you have Randal Grimes coming on board. That’s going to be a huge help for us. Then you can sleep at night because you’ve got Deontay [Burnett] in your back pocket and Steven Mitchell, who has played a lot of ball. It’s a talented group that hasn’t seen a ton of experience, and we’ve got to get them those reps early.”