The peculiar case of Dillon Baxter
The name Dillon Baxter is pretty well known in college football circles. He was one of the highest rated recruits of the 2010 class, and also hailing from San Diego, quickly drew comparison to former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. He would choose USC and enroll early in the spring, looking for an edge that would enable him to compete immediately in the fall. The freshman was issued the nameless No. 28, with an opportunity to earn one on the field. And he wasted no time in bringing the awe, as spring drills gave us glimpses of the player he could be.
Baxter’s name would later be dropped by Mike Garrett, as one of the players targeted and receiving communications from other schools, after NCAA sanctions were imposed on the program. It was a name all coaches wished to add to their stable, but also a name that would shine in a negative light before it ever recorded a first carry.
The former high school phenom was suspended for the 2010 USC opener, for an incident involving marijuana in a dorm room. He would be dismissed a second time in November, when USC ruled him ineligible for accepting a golf cart ride across campus from a suspected agent. It was two suspensions in a four month period, before Dillon’s feet were thoroughly in motion.
The tailback appeared in 10 of 13 games as a freshman, mostly playing the role of reserve behind Marc Tyler and Allen Bradford. Baxter would finish his first season with 59 carries for a total of 252 yards, with expectation of an increase in workload for his sophomore season.
As the calendar flipped to a new year, the name held recognition, though Dillon Baxter the player became a stranger to the field. His participation was in severe decline, appearing less with each passing week. He found himself buried four-deep on the depth chart, absent on last week’s trip to Notre Dame, and finally dismissed from the program.
Few players have been surrounded by so much silence and secrecy. Staff members give a generic answer to Baxter questions, which is “no comment” to his actions or theirs. We know of a meeting between his parents and Lane Kiffin in September, yet are clueless to the issue addressed. Explaining an absence last week in South Bend was to throw the public a bone, citing the birth of a child as the reason for the empty seat on the flight. It only proved to be another dose of bullshit, made obvious less than 3 days later, when USC announced Baxter is no longer a part of the team.
With a program going through troubled times, it certainly wouldn’t be uncommon or wrong to speculate that there is more to the story than is being offered to the public. Academic performance may be one issue, but the vanishing act after a single carry against Arizona State leads me to believe there’s something else.
George Farmer was stripped of his redshirt after participating for the first time against Cal. At the time, we saw his insertion into the backfield as a project, but today is appears more as a replacement for a troubled runner. Baxter made his last appearance four weeks ago against Arizona State, receiving just a single carry late in the lopsided loss. From that point on, Baxter was treated as an ineligible player, with the staff unwilling to take a risk by playing him. If this was the case and the issue was academics, then why was there hesitation to say so? It’s that secrecy that makes it appear that coaches were awaiting clearance of another violation that never came, which leaves me wondering about the facts surrounding the once heralded recruit and his abrupt departure from the USC program—-facts that remain undisclosed today.
“We’re done talking about it,” Kiffin said. “This is all about no distractions, so it’s why we’re not answering questions. We don’t want our players or our coaches dealing with it. Our team has had great focus over the last couple of weeks … and the last thing we want to do is get distracted.”