I’m sure you have seen the video by now.
After all, it has been watched almost two million times.
The football player in the clip runs a sweep, darts to the sideline, cuts back once, twice and then a third time while defenders fall around him as if their legs suddenly turned to jelly. Running in a dirty white uniform surrounded by fast-approaching dark jerseys, he speeds down the field frantically in search of open space, breaking free in an effortless change of direction. As he crosses the plane of the goal line, the scene behind him is reminiscent more of the conclusion of an epic battle than a single play in a football game.
When you think about it, these images could belong to any number of spectacular plays in USC’s seemingly never-ending football highlight reel.
But the video didn’t come from the Trojans’ film vault. It came from a scrimmage last week, featuring a player that has yet to experience a down in college football: freshman phenom running back Dillon Baxter.
The video is now viral — in addition to the flood of views it received on YouTube and its propagation on sports blogs, the minute-and-a-half clip managed to grace the homepage of Yahoo.com.
If the comparisons of Baxter to former Trojan Reggie Bush didn’t already exist, they certainly do now; USC coach Lane Kiffin himself dared to make the comparison.
I know what you are thinking — we’ve all heard this before, both with Baxter and every other star tailback to play for the Trojans since Bush left.
Joe McKnight came to USC blanketed with the same expectations; he was supposed to round out a decade chock-full of star running backs and provide the finishing touch to the argument that the Trojans’ ground game was unmatched in college football.
But, despite a successful career by most standards, it didn’t turn out as planned — and in the true nature of Los Angeles sports fans, panic ensued.
So, to prevent any mid-November stress-induced stomach ulcers, I propose that we take a different approach to next season: Let’s end any and all comparisons of Baxter to Bush right now.
Granted, it’s hard to do, as the similarities between the two backs are striking. Both hail from San Diego — where they recorded monstrous numbers in high school (Baxter actually starred at quarterback as well) — they have similar body compositions, use a bruising yet lightning quick style of play and can excel in multiple positions on the field at any time.
It’s not that I don’t think he’ll live up to the hype; in fact, the freakish talent that Baxter has shown leads me to believe that he will go on to an illustrious, record-breaking career at USC. It’s the image that is being stamped on him that I’m worried about.
Forcing Baxter into the Reggie Bush mold will only stunt his growth as a competitor. Rarely do two players — even ones who have so much in common — develop identical styles of play as they progress in their career, and it is even rarer that both find overwhelming success.
As Baxter is given more freedom to become his own style of back, there is a greater chance that he will embrace the role and feel comfortable in his position.
And in case you forgot, the face of the team has changed significantly over the past five years.
There is no longer a LenDale White to provide the “thunder” to Baxter’s “lightning” as White so often did back in 2004 and 2005 with Bush, not to mention the fact that Matt Leinart isn’t taking snaps behind center anymore.
This new team is one of the most inexperienced Trojan squads of the last decade, and their success will rely on a game plan much different from teams of years past. While another Reggie Bush would certainly help, the Trojans need someone suited specifically for this team’s needs, and it is that opportunity in which Baxter will be able to create his own personal legacy.
Although the 30 or so seconds of ankle-breaking and awe-inspiring footage making its rounds on the Internet may conjure up images of No. 5 in your mind, try extra hard to resist.
Because, with the right training and guidance, there may just be a new number to remember a couple years down the road: 28.
“One-Two Punch” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail James at firstname.lastname@example.org.