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The Saga of Dillon Baxter

10/26/2011

It was only a short time ago that Dillon Baxter was a can’t-miss prospect. He showed up at the USC Rising Stars Camp as a sophomore and wowed everyone with his performance and his goal of one day playing for the Trojans. He put up huge numbers as a senior, including a state high school record for touchdowns in one season.

After enrolling early at USC, he became a YouTube sensation with a weaving spring-ball run, and coach Lane Kiffin was quoted multiple times as saying Baxter was as talented as any player on the Trojans' roster.

Not long after his arrival, however, the whispers started about off-the-field issues as well as -- after the NCAA sanctions were announced -- some strange claims of contact from other schools, which turned out to be false. In 2010, Kiffin suspended Baxter for the season opener against Hawaii for not meeting the standard of a USC student-athlete. Later in the season Baxter was held out of a game after taking a golf cart ride with a wannabe sports agent.

There was hope coming into this season that things were going to change -- and during fall camp there did seem to be a change in attitude, at least for a while. Kiffin praised Baxter as an example of someone who was giving a real effort. But the running back rotation began to solidify for the start of the season, and Baxter was not in that group. His practice carries began to dwindle. It didn’t take long for the "old" Baxter to resurface, and this time it was simply too much for the coaches to take.

When the news came down this week that Baxter was no longer with the USC team, the Trojans Family didn’t bat an eye. It was no surprise. The statement from Kiffin that Baxter would still receive support from USC academic services would indicate that the door remains slightly open for a return to the team, but it doesn’t seem likely. And there isn't a real sense that there is much hand-wringing over that reality from coaches and teammates.

It won’t be a huge surprise if, sometime soon, Baxter announces he is leaving USC in hopes of a fresh start elsewhere. Perhaps a change in scenery is best for both parties. This isn’t the USC that Baxter committed to so many years ago. He wanted to be the next Joe McKnight, the one who basically got handed a job and didn’t really have to work too hard to keep it. He wanted the loose atmosphere and Hollywood persona created in the Pete Carroll era. Instead, he got Lane Kiffin and a completely different way of doing things. In the end, that change was too much for Dillon to adjust to, and the can’t-miss kid turned out to be a miss.