Before his first season as head coach of the University of Southern California even starts, Lane Kiffin wants to make it clear that he is committed to setting a new tone for the football program. Highly touted freshman running back Dillon Baxter was suspended from the Trojans first game against the Hawaii warriors for violating team rules.
“I think this is an extremely strong message and a very severe punishment for a player that may potentially be the most-skilled player on our whole roster,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully that message not only helps him but helps our team and especially our freshman class.”
The running back was informed of the decision Wednesday, but will be allowed to continue participating in practice. Baxter, along with wide receiver Markeith Ambles spent Tuesday running the sideline as punishment for what Kiffin described as being “late for something”.
Neither player was allowed to speak to the media after the completion of practice, and Kiffin failed to describe exactly what team rules the players violated. Baxter continued to participate in rolling drills, while Ambles returned to his regular receiver workouts.
Kiffin said that the decision not to suspend Ambles was a judgment call, and that he felt like Baxter’s transgression was calculated. The most trusted online sportsbooks don’t tend to look favorably upon teams with character issues.
“There are just things that you have your opinion on of whether people make mistakes, whether people make choices on purpose,” Kiffin said Tuesday. “I felt Markeith it was more of a mistake and I felt Dillon’s was more severe.”
There is no word yet on whether or not Baxter will be allowed to accompany the team to Hawaii. Class schedule might be the deciding factor for Kiffin to allow, or disallow Baxter to be with his team in Honolulu.
“I don’t know that. I’m still trying to figure that out,” Kiffin said. “There are reasons for him to go, I think, so that he sees what he misses and has that feeling and it hurts more. But it’s also a Thursday game and with the travel schedule he’d be missing school so I have to figure that out.”
Baxter entered USC camp after graduating a semester early from Mission Bay High School in San Diego. He has already racked up a number of highlight reels at spring practice, and is expected to contribute as a kick returner as well as a running back.
Bodog sportsbook have favored the Trojans to win more than 9 1/2 games next season at -140 with Baxter.
“He wasn’t happy by any means but he has two choices,” Kiffin said. “This is adversity right now for him and he can deal with it two ways, like I told him. He can sit around and pout and think that he’s being picked on, used as an example and he can stay over there and we can move on without him or he can take this and move on from here and work to get ready for the Virginia game.”
The Trojans are set as 19 1/2 point favorites over the Warriors in their season opener without Baxter according to NCAA football odds.