I don’t think Clay Helton can beat Alabama. Of course, it won’t be just Helton out there on Saturday against the Crimson Tide. It’s not a chess match between him and Nick Saban. Coaches can only do so much.But I don’t think Helton is the kind of coach who will lead USC to victory in “The Big One” anytime soon. He’ll be a perfectly good coach during his USC tenure, and a loss during the first game of his non-interim USC coaching career doesn’t necessarily entail doom for the rest of the season. Heck, the Trojans could pull off an upset against the defending national champions; I really do hope I’m wrong. Nonetheless, these aren’t the kinds of games Helton was brought in to win. Even if the spread was closer to a field goal than two touchdowns and there wasn’t quite the mismatch between his roster and Saban’s, I still wouldn’t feel the typical, invincible Arrogant Nation swagger I otherwise would while going into a heavyweight showdown. If the Trojans stick around with the Crimson Tide for the most part, but ultimately fall short of really competing for a victory, I think it will be a great indicator of what we can and can’t expect from his head coaching tenure. When Helton was officially promoted from interim to permanent football head coach last year, the move represented a call for consistency and stability after several seasons that were anything but. A dismissal on a tarmac, an emotional storm-off before a bowl game, a personal problem boiling over onto the field and plenty other twists and turns characterize the last five years of USC football better than any single victory or accomplishment. The noise surrounding those on the sideline has drowned out the actual performance of the Trojan student-athletes on the field — what the program should really be about.That’s why former athletic director Pat Haden wanted to give Helton the keys to the program. By all accounts, he was a very well-liked and respected coach at USC as a quarterbacks’ coach, offensive coordinator and interim leader on two different occasions. He was the steadiest force on staff during a uniquely tumultuous period for Hollywood’s local team. He had arguably the best chance of making the most out of USC’s potential, putting an end to all the distractions and underwhelming on-field performances. With all that being said, he still comes in as a relatively unheralded former assistant. As a player, Helton’s career numbers at Houston included one touchdown and four interceptions in 16 games. He was brought onto the USC staff from Memphis, an unremarkable program previously playing in Conference USA. This is his first head coaching job. Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it isn’t, but Helton was not the big name hire some had hoped for and felt that a program like USC should be able to pull off. Because as much as nostalgic USC fans like me need to get away from this, as unreasonable of an expectation as it is, Helton won’t be able to escape the shadow of the man who built the program he just inherited. Helton is no Pete Carroll. It’s impossible to make any sort of analysis of a USC football head coach in recent memory without bringing up Carroll’s name. Legendary is by no means an understatement. Even if it’s an exaggeration with regards to his actual accomplishments at the helm, it certainly isn’t with regards to the mythical status Carroll still holds among lifelong Trojan fans who experienced the glory of his peak. Carroll was the king of Southern California swagger. Even though he had three different Heisman trophy winners during his tenure with USC, it was Carroll who was the star, the larger-than-life figure defining the persona of Trojan football. No one could stop USC, and there was no big game the Trojans wouldn’t win. There’s one very notable exception to that rule, arguably the biggest and most important of all the games he coached. But even when factoring in the 2005 National Championship game loss to Texas, Carroll and the Trojans put up a remarkable record in big games. His record includes two Orange Bowl wins, four Rose Bowl wins, an epic Bush Push victory in 2005 during the biggest game in the recent history of the Notre Dame rivalry, a 66-19 beatdown of UCLA in 2005 (the last time both teams played while ranked around the AP Top-10), a victory over a No. 6 Auburn team in 2003 en route to a national championship and two victories over Ohio State in 2008 and 2009, which were the last times the Trojans had big name non-conference games on the early schedule. Given that Carroll won six of seven BCS bowl games and then essentially was never beaten in the regular season by an evenly-matched regular season opponent, it’s hard not to call the Carroll era a dynasty. The downfall for Carroll, though, was that the dynasty was prone to huge upsets. It was almost never a team that could reasonably compete with the Trojans derailing their season. It was always a team the Trojans should have beaten. I still think USC had the best football team in the country in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but losses to unranked opponents in times before the four-team playoff prevented the Trojans from ever validating that in the national championship that year. That’s why this matchup against Alabama feels so similar to USC’s home-and-home with Ohio State in 2008 and 2009 or the 2003 Auburn tilt, even though the ranking disparity this year is much greater. The ’08 Trojans came in as the No. 1 team against a No. 5 Ohio State, then were ranked No. 3 against the No. 8 Buckeyes in 2009. 2003 featured a No. 8 USC vs. a No. 6 Auburn. The Trojans aren’t really coming in on the same level as No. 1 Alabama this year — the AP has USC as a legitimate underdog at No. 20. But this feels like the kind of game Pete Carroll would win. Why? Because he just would. Even with the very same roster against a defending national champion Alabama team, every single player in Carroll’s locker room would unequivocally believe that they were about to win that game, which they would then go do. But Pete Carroll probably wouldn’t lead USC past Utah State the following week. In both ’08 and ’09, immediately after taking down top-10 Ohio State teams, the Trojans lost the following week against unranked conference opponents — at Oregon State in ’08 and at Washington in ’09.That’s the essential tradeoff between Helton and Carroll. The Trojans will win the games they are supposed to under Helton. But it will be some time before USC goes into every game expecting to win with him at the helm. Time will tell whether this style materializes into a national championship during Helton’s tenure. Win the conference enough times and appear in the College Football Playoff enough times, and Helton will hopefully break through at least once and win it all. If he can do it within the next decade, then I would put him on that same level that Carroll occupies. But that’s a long ways away. For now, USC is not really on the same level as an Alabama. Heck, Stanford and even UCLA might be the best two teams in the conference for the next couple of seasons. Helton just needs a strong start. Even if the Trojans fall short of winning on Saturday, he can still set the tone for the future of the season — and the future of the program — just by sticking around. Luke Holthouse is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development and print and digital journalism. His column, “Holthouse Party,” runs on Wednesday.
Elijah Hughes strolled into a mostly vacant Carrier Dome around 5 p.m. on Saturday, two hours before Syracuse’s Oct. 26 exhibition against Division II Daemen College. At 7 p.m. Hughes would pull off his warm up shirt, rustle his hair and SU’s star would showcase a remodeled version of himself — one with a three-level game and an unselfishness to get his teammates involved in a 24-point performance that SU head coach Jim Boeheim said “could have (been) 40.”The talk around Hughes’ expanded role picked up in the months following last season. Tyus Battle left for the NBA Draft. Oshae Brissett followed. SU coaches told Hughes he needed to “be that guy,” a leader it can rally around.“I’ve always had a knack for talking,” Hughes said, laughing.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut Hughes doesn’t deny his lack of experience as a primary option — he hasn’t been in this position in almost five years. Three years after the redshirt junior arrived at East Carolina labeled a “steal” in the high school recruiting cycle, Hughes assumes the role of Syracuse’s most formidable offensive threat and a leader thrust into the position.,He didn’t receive a scholarship for prep school, entered the next year as a young role player at a mid-major and two years after that served primarily as an off-ball scoring threat on a Syracuse team that relied heavily on Battle’s isolation play. The soft-spoken guard’s ability to go unnoticed was perhaps his most dangerous skill. Now he’s expected to be the loudest, the center of attention to open up the floor.“It really kind of took me off guard,” Hughes said. “A lot of young guys that come speak to me — they don’t know something in the zone or on a play — they come to me right away … This is my first time being a leader at a high level.”From a young age, Hughes’ calm nature was one of his more defining traits. He blended into the halls at school, his middle school principal Brian Archer said, but remained aware of his image. He wore pink shoes. He cycled through different hairstyles. In the seventh grade, he bragged to his eventual Beacon (New York) High School coach, Tom Powers, that he would play varsity as an eighth grader.In his final year of high school, a few of his teammates joined in on South Kent’s annual “Thriller Dance,” where volunteers don zombie makeup and dance to Michael Jackson’s famous Halloween tune. So Hughes, who South Kent prep school head coach Kelvin Jefferson said didn’t put himself above other students despite his basketball talent, joined his classmates in the dance.“Well, shoot, I haven’t seen (Hughes) shy,” his South Kent and former Syracuse teammate Matthew Moyer said.Despite his seemingly unmatched assurance, his game always exhibited a heightened maturity. He played multiple years above his grade level every season until his junior year of high school. Though his youth often led to sacrificing leading roles, Powers said, Hughes assumed a majority of the responsibility for poor team performances. In the back of his parents’ car after losses, he’d pop in his headphones and go silent.When Hughes was in 10th grade, his team lost in the semifinals of the Boo Williams AAU tournament in Newport, Virginia. Unable to control his own emotions from the loss, he noticed a kid on the bus who wasn’t crying. He seemed not to be upset at all. His father, Wayne, said Hughes didn’t always understand: He assumed everyone was always on the same page. For Hughes, leading became an effort to create a singular focus on winning — to make his teammates want what he wants.“When it comes to pressure situations, (Hughes) is not as up-and-down,” Wayne said. “He has an innate ability to stay at a certain level.”But his three Division I seasons had yet to provide him with that same starring opportunity. He struggled with injuries his freshman year at ECU and was unable to play due to NCAA transfer rules upon arriving at SU. For the Orange last season, he produced a solid 13.7 points per game. His best offered the Orange an offensive and defensive spark, but the game rarely ran through Hughes.,His progression at Syracuse was slower than Boeheim expected. He rarely made moves to take defenders to the rim off the dribble and Boeheim even said in February Hughes “wasn’t ready” to do so. His shot blocking and shooting gave momentum to the Orange at times, but inconsistency, a limited repertoire on drives and the presence of other stars made his performances less integral to each game’s outcome.Though Hughes claimed the preparation for this year’s role required “a different mold,” he crafted a training regimen that highlighted his strengths. “Mommy, I got to go get the buckets,” Hughes quipped to his mother, Penny, when he returned home this summer. Wayne and Penny joked they only saw him for dinner, and much of the time was spent updating Hughes on happenings within the family that he might’ve missed.As he worked back into a practice schedule at Syracuse, Hughes took 200 to 300 shots before and after practice. He spent a large portion of the time expanding his moves from the midrange and working to improve his handle so that he is “more aware.” On the court, where Hughes tries to echo the voice of the leaders that left the team last season, Wayne said he relies on direct, short, “two or three word conversations” with teammates. He’s not “physical” or “poetic” when he speaks on the court, so sometimes it goes unnoticed.“I try to talk to him as much as possible,” freshman Brycen Goodine said. “It’s not visible to everyone else, but he talks a lot.”,This past June, Hughes paced back-and-forth outside the gymnasium at Beacon Middle School. Once someone who needed extra attention from teachers to ensure he filled out his planner and stayed organized, Archer said, Hughes was invited to speak to around 90 students about the importance of school and not wasting opportunities.“I haven’t done this too often,” Archer remembered Hughes said to him. “I’m a little bit nervous.”“The kids just want to hear what you have to say,” Archer responded. “Do your best and it will go fine.”Hughes opened the door and a room of third, fourth and fifth graders erupted. He spoke for about 30 minutes. Sometime early in the speech, Hughes shifted his nervousness to a quiet confidence.Students wanted him there. They wanted to listen. To them, Hughes is a celebrity. As he walked out of the building, Penny noticed Hughes’ familiar strut.“I think I made all the points I wanted to make,” Penny remembered Hughes said to her.Those around Hughes express an unassuming confidence about his ability to lead Syracuse — or any team. Coaches, family and friends are seemingly insulted by the questioning of his ability. The noise, the expectations, the hope — when the ball is tipped against Daemen, it’s all there. But Hughes feels no need to tune any of it out.“Pressure?” Hughes asked when he was questioned about his expanded role. “Nah. I’m just playing basketball.”,Banner photo by Corey Henry | Photo Editor Comments Published on November 2, 2019 at 9:12 pm Contact Michael: email@example.com | @MikeJMcCleary,Cancel replyYou must be logged in to post a comment.
Former Ghana international, Ahmed Apimah Barusso, has opened up on how his former club manager at Italian side Rimini, used to task him to understudy Michael Essien.Barusso spent one season at the then Serie B side, before making a switch to AS Roma in 2007.According to Barusso, Leonardo Acori, the then manager of Rimini was bent on improving him, so much so that he forced him to watch almost every game Essien featured in for Chelsea that season, and tested him on his observations.“I was always arguing with my coach at Rimini. He told me I had to break into the national team setup and be like Michael Essien,” he told CitiSports in an exclusive interview.“Anytime Chelsea was playing that season, he would tell me to stop everything I was doing and watch the game and take notes on Essien’s performance.”Michael Essien was a very great player at the time, and we played in a similar position.”I had no choice but to watch, because if I wasn’t able to answer his questions the following day, I’d be in trouble,” he added.Barusso started his career in Ghana with FC Nania before leaving to Europe, where he’s spent his playing days with a host of Italian clubs, most notably AS Roma.The 35 year old became famous in Ghana after he missed a last minute free kick in the Black Stars’ semi final defeat against Cameroon in AFCON 2008.