In yet another dose of drama before ever coaching a game for USC, head coach Lane Kiffin suspended freshman running back Dillon Baxter for the Trojans' season opener against Hawaii.
"This morning we made a decision to suspend Dillon Baxter for the opening game versus Hawaii because of a violation of team rules," Kiffin said. "I think this is an extremely strong message, a very severe punishment for a player that may potentially be our most skilled player on the whole roster to miss his first game. I'm hoping that message not only helps him but our team and especially our freshman class. This is our first class coming in, first class we've signed here at USC and I want to make sure they understand we have extremely high expectations for all of our players, even the young ones on and off the field."
News of the suspension was first reported by the LA Times in the middle of the Trojans Wednesday afternoon practice. Neither Kiffin or Baxter, who is not allowed to speak to the media at this time, specified what rule the freshman broke.
The Times reported that USC Department of Public Safety officials filed a report from the team's camp dormitory stating that a student "violated team curfew and being under the influence of a controlled substance." Baxter was not named in the report.
"I don't think he was happy by any means," Kiffin said about the suspension, "but he's got two choices. This is adversity for him right now and he can deal with it two ways. That's what I told him. He can sit down and pout and think that he's being picked on or use it as an example. But we'll keep moving on without him. Or he can take this and move on from here, this is over, this is in his past now and he can work to get ready for the Virginia game."
Kiffin said he had not informed the rest of the team about the news but did talk to new Athletic Director Pat Haden and Assistant Athletic Director J.K. McKay regarding the decision.
"I made the decision this morning," Kiffin said. "I talked to both of them about it and they were in complete, full support of it. They thought it was a great message, especially as we're all new here. So it was great to be all on the same page."
Although Baxter will not be playing in the Hawaii game, his status with regards to traveling to the islands is still to be determined.
"I don't know that yet, we're still trying to figure that out," Kiffin said. "There are reasons for him to go, that I think, as far as bringing him he sees what he's missing on purpose so he has the feeling so it hurts more. But also, it's a Thursday game and with the travel schedule, he'd be missing school. So I have to figure that out.
"When we get to that week, he won't be in our game plan, obviously. He won't practice from the standpoint of getting plays in the game plan but he'll still be practicing. We'll still probably send him down to service team that week to help our defense prepare."
Baxter did not practice during Tuesday's two-a-day practice and was seen doing various conditioning drills on the sidelines. He practiced with the team on Wednesday.
USCFootball.com will have more on this developing situation.