It's star-struck Saturday for USC

On a rainy Saturday, a number of the Trojan football family gathered for practice and turned Clay Helton into a star-struck kid.

You knew it was going to be a good day, despite the rain, when Marcus Allen was waiting at the Goux Gate Saturday before practice. Was he going to talk to the Trojans later? Marcus wasn’t sure.

But we were. He would be.

Clay Helton had invited a number of Trojan alumni players to come watch the workout. But only one of them was Marcus, a player that Clay’s dad, Kim, when he coached Marcus with the Raiders along with Eric Dickerson and Bo Jackson, told his young son that Marcus “was the toughest football player he’d ever seen.”

But Marcus’ post-practice talk to the players – how they’re all connected to USC football tradition and one another and a challenge to them to live up to what that means in terms of toughness and physicality -- wasn’t the only thing he was doing.

”He challenged us and our football players,” Clay said. “He said it’s not about the hype, that it’s a great challenge . . . and it was preached to us by one of the greats.”

He was “coaching our coaches,” Clay said, realizing that talking about it “makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.”

And this from someone, Clay said, “who has been talking to Marcus since I was this high.”

But it wasn’t just Marcus making an impression on this group of young Trojans. Shaun Cody and Mike Williams and Paul McDonald were early arrivals, too. And of course, Sam Cunningham. All happy to see one another. And not letting the rain bother them.

It had been a while. The last five years hadn’t been much of a time for Trojans to be brought back in close. Well, except for when interim coaches Ed Orgeron and Clay took over. The head coaches – well, let’s just say it was an arm’s length deal for them and these alumni Trojans.

”The Trojan family,” Clay said as alums like Matt Barkley would come up and say “Hi,” and thank you for the Cliffs Notes version of what it would be like to live in Philly. He’s thrilled to death, he says, to be with the Cardinals now, splitting his time between Scottsdale and Orange County, and learning the NFL under another OC guy, Carson Palmer, whose Trojan time came a decade earlier.

More Trojans kept coming by. Keith Rivers said he "just wanted to check the Trojans out," but as he headed out to the field, he leapt up to touch the goal posts just like in the old days.

Al Cowlings was here with USC benefactor Wayne Hughes in tow. Brian Kennedy too. Sam Cunningham was already on the field. And Lawrence Jackson, Terrell Thomas and John David Booty, who’s now, with his entire family, living in Newport Beach and “growing old,” he says with a laugh.

Sam Baker, still driving his pickup truck and living in Tustin and now coaching at Mission Viejo, was talking about his dad, Dave, now running the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. And there were Willie McGinest, John Jackson and Alex Holmes.

A trim Anthony Davis, all cool with his Kangol hat in all-black, was next to a smiling J. R. Tavai while Matt Leinart arrived after a bit. That makes two Heisman Trophy winners and one who should have won one.

Not a bad lineup for the photo afterwards. And a good reason for Clay to say that he was, indeed, a bit “star struck” now that he looked around and saw the alums he’d invited had shown up to support the program.

”What a great day,” Clay said.

Quick hitters here

Full pads, full officiating crew and partial rain for Saturday’s practice . . . John Plattenburg, Ykili Ross and Chris Hawkins, not in pads but out rehabbing . . . More than 100 high school players and their coaches here . . . Jordan Simmons on Rehab Island today. Doesn't look too bad . . . De'Quan Hampton and Juju Smith-Schuster with big catches on the day . . . Taylor McNamara on a deep play-action TD from Sam Darnold . . . big runs from Dominic Davis and scoring runs from Justin Davis and Ronald Jones . . . Matt Boermeester after having two 50-yard FGAs just short hit his third one in a live session.

*** For more details on Saturday’s practice, check out Saturday Spring Day 12 Ghost Notes.

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