Baxter leaves team to focus on academics

Sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter is no longer a member of the USC football team, the school announced Tuesday morning. He does, however, remain enrolled at the school.

Missing in action · Sophomore tailback Dillon Baxter did not travel with USC to South Bend, Ind., where the team faced Notre Dame. - Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

“The decision has been made for Dillon Baxter to focus on his academics,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement. “As he does so, he will not be part of our football program.  However, we will continue to support him with our academic services department.”

Kiffin did not specify whether Baxter would rejoin the team at some point in the future.

“This [is] all about no distractions,“ Kiffin said. “Our team has had great focus over the past couple of weeks on the road; the last thing that we want to do is get distracted.”

Baxter arrived at USC in 2010 as a highly touted recruit at the running back position but has failed to reach the projected heights, as off-field issues have defined his career.

After the NCAA announced sanctions against USC, Baxter notified USC’s compliance office that several high-profile schools — Alabama, Florida, Fresno State, Oregon and Washington — had illegally contacted him on June 10, 2010, in an effort to lure him away from USC.

But Baxter was not contacted by the schools, and then-USC athletic director Mike Garrett issued an apology as a result.

Baxter was suspended for two contests during the 2010 season. He missed the season opener at Hawaii for an unspecified violation of team rules and served a one-game suspension for accepting a golf cart ride from a student agent.

He did finish with 252 rushing yards and one touchdown on 59 carries in 10 games for the Trojans.

With senior tailback Marc Tyler suspended indefinitely to start the 2011 season, some speculated that Baxter would assume the starting role. But Baxter remained buried in the depth chart behind junior Curtis McNeal and freshman D.J. Morgan.

After the season opener Sept. 3 against Minnesota, where he did not log any carries, Baxter and his parents met with Kiffin to discuss the sophomore’s playing time. Though Baxter said he did not intend to transfer at the time, it appeared he was frustrated with his role.

Baxter’s career took another odd turn last week when he missed practice the Sunday before the Notre Dame game reportedly because of a family issue and eventually did not travel to South Bend, Ind.

Playing in just three games through the first seven contests of the 2011 campaign, Baxter  registered just nine carries for 29 yards this season. For his career, Baxter has 68 carries for 281 yards and one touchdown.

Whether Baxter will wear the cardinal and gold or transfer remains to be seen.

“We’re focused on the guys that are here,” Kiffin said. “We’re focused on getting ready to play maybe the best team in the country.”