Dillon Baxter didn’t think he’d make it all the way to the end zone on his best run Thursday.
The sophomore running back cut left at the line and quickly evaded two tacklers but knew he’d have to beat at least a safety to make it all the way, something he could rarely do as a first-year freshman in 2010. But Baxter did just that, using some newfound speed to motor past the would-be tackler and run it all the way for a score.
It was one of the more impressive plays of practice Thursday, the first day of fall camp for the Trojans. And it had USC coach Lane Kiffin absolutely raving afterward.
“Dillon, definitely, is bigger, stronger and faster than he was,” Kiffin said. “There’s no doubt about that. You can see that in the individual drills. He’s a different guy, attitude-wise. He’s a different guy physically. It’s great to see.
That’s high praise from any coach, but especially from Kiffin to Baxter. The two had a strained relationship throughout the 2010 season because of Baxter’s attitude and off-the-field issues. That relationship seemed somewhat better in the spring, with no clear conflicts between the two, but it seems entirely gone now.
"We talked to him about being a consistent running back," Kiffin said Thursday. "We started that in the spring, and he got better with it as the spring went along, and he’s doing a great job with it now."
How did Baxter get faster? Asked that question Thursday, he said only two letters: "AA," or Aaron Ausmus, USC's strength and conditioning coach.
Said Baxter: “I’ve pretty much just been going on [his] whole plan, and I guess it’s working."
The book on the 5-11, 195-pound Baxter often goes over his reportedly superb speed, but, in truth, he's maybe an average-speed guy for the running back position. His elite agility is why he was a top prospect as a prep -- not the speed. And he's not USC's fastest runner, either -- that title goes to redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, a track star in high school.
Baxter freely admits he's not the fastest on the team. He seems more comfortable with that than he was upon his arrival at USC last spring, almost to the point where he's afraid to talk about his speed to the media. Told of Kiffin's comments and asked if he himself felt faster than he was previously, Baxter didn't say much.
"A little bit faster," he said. "A little bit."