LOS ANGELES (AP) - Dillon Baxter is eager for his Hollywood premiere, even if it’s a week late.
Southern California’s touted freshman tailback will be in uniform Saturday night when the 16th-ranked Trojans host Virginia at the Coliseum.
Although Baxter is among the most anticipated skill-position recruits in the recent history of a talent-studded program, coach Lane Kiffin suspended him for last week’s opener at Hawaii for violations of team rules. While the Trojans traveled to Honolulu and spent an extra day on the beach after their 49-36 victory, Baxter stewed at home.
“That’s probably the worst thing I’ve been through football-wise, aside from when I was 7 and my mom took all my trophies away,” Baxter said, recalling a punishment after a poor performance on a science test.
“I wanted to go out and party a little bit, but I’ve been getting in trouble and whatnot. So I stayed in and watched it at home _ be mad, sit in my little corner. But that pumped me up and got me pretty hyped for this week.”
Kiffin hasn’t confirmed exactly what Baxter did to earn a suspension, but it hasn’t soured the first-year coach on his prize prospect. Kiffin has suggested the Trojans could use Baxter as a ball carrier, receiver and quarterback at various points in the same game _ although the coach also has more mundane instructions.
“Take care of the ball,” Kiffin said when asked his primary instruction for Baxter. “That’s the first concern always for a freshman. It’s the most important thing. We’ll see what he can do from there.”
Baxter played three skill positions in high school in San Diego, winning several awards as the nation’s top player last fall after rushing for 50 touchdowns and passing for 26 more scores. He stuck with his commitment to the Trojans even after NCAA sanctions ruined his chances of playing in a bowl game for two years.
Baxter has lived up to his hype during his first few months with the Trojans, culminating in a stellar performance during USC’s spring scrimmage. Film of his speedy, nimble running became a Youtube sensation with several hundred thousand hits.
Baxter might be USC’s unofficial third quarterback behind Matt Barkley and Mitch Mustain, but he’s likely to get his most extensive action as a running back. Baxter is eager to play alongside tailback Marc Tyler, who unexpectedly won the Trojans’ starting job in training camp before rushing for 154 yards in last week’s opener.
“It’s going to be huge,” Barkley said of Baxter’s addition. “It’s another tool in my tool bag. He’s going to be great, whether we use him as a quarterback or as a runner.”
And after his suspension gave him an early taste of the media spotlight surrounding USC’s best players, Baxter is prepared for the Coliseum fans hanging on his every move this Saturday.
“I’ll be nervous that first play, but after that first hit, I’ll be good,” Baxter said. “I wished I could have been there in Hawaii, but the offense overall did really good. We’ll be ready.”
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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