Amid rumors of an unhappy relationship with the coaching staff and a dissatisfaction with his lack of playing time, USC tailback Dillon Baxter is no longer part of the football team, head coach Lane Kiffin confirmed in a post on the team's blog.
A series of events have led many to see the situation as somewhat inevitable. An early enrollee in 2010, the San Diego, Calif. native was suspended for his freshman season opener against Hawaii after he reportedly "violated a team curfew" and for "being under the influence of a controlled substance." Just three months later, in November, Baxter was held out of the Oregon State game by the university after he was spotted in a golf cart driven by a former NFLPA-certified agent.
While he had a hopeful fall camp this season, showing an improved cutting ability and faster speed, Baxter did not get the playing time he had expected in 2011. As one of only two running backs with career starting experience, including senior tailback Marc Tyler, Baxter expressed his disappointment with the media.
“Yeah I have no idea how everything went. I guess when game comes there’s different situations, I guess it doesn’t go like practice and I guess they didn’t need [me], or I didn’t really come up today at all,” Baxter said after the Minnesota game, where he touched the ball just once, in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Kiffin was talking about how I changed and everything and you know, I thought I’ve being doing the right things. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully there will be a change,” he added.
But things did not change. They only got worse. Each game Baxter looked more upset at his lack of minutes, showing no emotion on the sideline as his team amassed win after win.
And then came the tipping point. On Oct. 16, Baxter was absent from a team practice. The Los Angeles Times first reported that his girlfriend is expecting a child due in January, so Baxter said he stayed back to San Diego to be with her.
But then he was absent again, this time from a game.
As first reported by Pedro Moura of ESPN Los Angeles, Baxter did not travel to South Bend for Saturday's game against Notre Dame. Immediately following the Trojans' 31-17 win over the Irish, Kiffin was asked about Baxter but postponed comment until Tuesday's blog post.
Some believed Baxter's absence was related to poor behavior, while others said he was only tending to family matters. A source intimately familiar with the situation said it was a mutual parting between Baxter and coaches Lane Kiffin and Kennedy Polamalu. But Kiffin said Tuesday on the RipsIt Blog that the tailback simply needed to "focus on his academics."
Baxter, a highly touted five star-recruit out of San Diego Mission Bay known for his versatility and speed, had only played in four games this season, where he carried the ball nine times for 29 yards and caught three passes for one yard.
In 2010, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry with one touchdown, caught 11 passes for 73 yards and threw a touchdown out of the Wildcat formation.
As a senior in high school, Baxter was named the MaxPreps National Player of the Year.
Kiffin did not discuss what Baxter's future plans are and does not plan to comment on the situation in the future. Phone calls and texts were placed to Baxter, who could not be reached for comment.