What Joe couldn’t do, maybe Dillon can


The comparison began the minute running back Joe McKnight committed to play football for USC rather than homestate Louisiana State University in 2007.

He was going to be the next Reggie Bush.

Bush, who declared for the NFL draft in 2006, left a legacy at USC after winning the Heisman Trophy in 2005 and cementing his place as one of the best running backs the Trojans have ever seen grace the Coliseum.

His 2005 rushing numbers: 1,740 yards, 16 touchdowns and an average of 8.7 yards per carry.

His 2005 receiving numbers: 37 receptions for 478 yards, two touchdowns and an average of 12.9 yards per reception.

And after returning one punt for a touchdown early in the season, Bush simply didn’t receive many more punts to return. Opposing teams opted to kick the ball out of bounds rather than deal with the superstar who had skills that made five-star recruits look like they were playing the wrong sport.

Bush’s final line was staggering, and he rightfully took home the Heisman Trophy following his junior campaign.

Then, like many expected, he turned pro.

USC was left without the flair and excitement that Bush provided when the Trojans played the 2006 season, but 2007 was to be different.

Joe McKnight was to be the new man.

The new Bush.

But he never was.

McKnight showed glimpses of greatness at times, but he battled injury problems throughout his stay in the Cardinal and Gold, and he never did seem to grasp the concept of holding onto the ball all that well.

Only after declaring for the NFL draft after the 2009 season did McKnight state that the lofty expectations placed on him to be the next Reggie Bush negatively affected his play on the field.

“I could have been better,” he said.

“That’s what my biggest problem was, trying to be so much like [Bush], instead of just being Joe McKnight and playing Joe McKnight football,” he added.

McKnight’s most recent season, his best at USC, ended with 1,014 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns and an average of 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 22 passes for 146 yards, but didn’t score a single receiving touchdown.

Those stats are very un-Bushian.

So now, the question still remains.

Who is the “next Reggie Bush?”

That may be impossible to answer. Maybe, just like the NBA question of who is the next Michael Jordan, there is no one that can fill Bush’s cleats.

Maybe Trojan football will never see another star juke, jump and, yes, even push like Bush did during his time at USC.

Or maybe, just maybe, the next Bush has arrived.

Lane Kiffin seems to believe in the latter.

The new USC head coach has compared new freshman running back Dillon Baxter to none other than No. 5 himself.

And unlike McKnight, Baxter, who graduated early from high school so he could enroll at USC in January and participate in spring practice, likes the comparison.

“It’s an honor to be compared to Reggie Bush,” the 19-year-old said.

Just like Bush, Baxter hails from San Diego and possesses the quick, make-you-miss moves that Bush had in college.

Nothing can be proven until the season begins and Baxter shows what he can contribute as a Trojan, but early in spring practice Baxter is being used at a number of different positions, similar to Bush. Baxter has seen time at running back, receiver and even quarterback on the field.

“Hopefully, I’ll get all these positions down,” Baxter said. “I’m not sure where I’ll be playing. They’re going to move me around once I get all the running back plays down.”

At Mission Bay High School, Baxter impressed recruits by not only rushing for 2,974 yards but also throwing for 1,922 yards as quarterback.

Those are skills even Bush didn’t bring with him to the college level.

Baxter has all the potential to make the big plays with his arm and legs.

Maybe it’s time to dust off No. 5’s old cleats. We might have a perfect fit.

“Soft Hands” runs on Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jon at jhaber@usc.edu.