It was maybe the most distinct part of USC football games last season, when it happened: then-freshman Dillon Baxter, each carry he got, would do his darnedest to dance his way to the sidelines, cutting back and juking at every opportunity he got to make a highlight-reel move.
There's not going to be any more of that in 2011, he says.
See, Baxter is a changed runner this spring, spending a lot more practice time focusing on making inside runs and breaking tackles instead of missing them. Part of the motivation seems to come from within, knowing that redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan is healthy now, faster than him and better at the patented outside runs.
And part is clearly coming straight from Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, who has consistently used the prospect of Morgan seizing his second-back spot as a way to spur Baxter on -- on and off the field.
"I think Dillon started off a little bit slow this spring," Kiffin said Saturday, "but he's had two really good practices the last two practices."
"He's running better. He's trusting his speed more, obviously. He's not a long speed guy and he's not gonna hit a lot of home runs because of that, but that doesn't mean he's gotta cut back every time."
Baxter said he is still tempted to cut back when he seems oncoming tackling entering into his field of vision but constantly has to remind himself to put his foot down and drive into them. It sounds like he still has quite a bit of progress to make in that end, though.
As for the most distinct part of Trojan football 2010 outside of in-game situations, Baxter's off-the-field troubles were as well-documented as any player on the team's last season, from his preseason suspension to his Oregon State game suspension to a number of small punishments along the way.
Baxter, 19, says now he learned a lot from his freshman season despite all the controversy, finding out how to live on his own and with accountability for his actions -- something he's consistently intimated he didn't have to do much while in high school in San Diego.
"I think it grew me up as a person and in football," he said of his freshman season.
He's also avoiding golf carts now after earning the OSU suspension and creating a cloud of controversy around USC when he took a free golf-cart ride from a student later revealed to be a student-agent -- or "at least ones with agents in them," he said.
And for all of his conflicts with Kiffin over the past year, it seems like the two finally have a mutual understanding worked out. It started with Baxter maturing, and -- like he and Kiffin both love to say -- becoming accountable for his actions.
Now he's getting the opportunity to redeem himself and return to the field in 2011 to improve on his disappointing 252-yard, one-touchdown season last year.
"He's not the first guy to come in and make mistakes as a freshman," Kiffin said simply.