Best hands on the USC team? Could be those of Deontay Burnett, the guy his teammate's call "Tay," who will be taking on a more important role the last five games of the regular season now that Steven Mitchell is out for the year with an ACL suffered Saturday in the Arizona game.
The slight 6-footer, with not quite 170 pounds on his frame, also has the biggest catching radius on the USC team. And of the entire roster, is the only one who maybe could engage in an athletic challenge with his former Serra High teammate, Adoree' Jackson, and talk about making it close.
They used to do it all the time after practice, "doing flips, making one-handed catches, catching 60 in a row," that sort of thing. He and Adoree' "are pretty close," Deontay said, noting that he "just might challenge him this week" for old times sake. And yes, that impressive dunk on a 12-foot basket that Adoree', an NCAA All-American trackster with serious hops can do, well so can Deontay.
But the thing that caught USC coach Tee Martin's eye when he was staying around watching a Serra post-practice session, was the way Deontay caught the ball. "You have hands," Deontay remembers Tee telling him, not having known he was there.
No big deal, Deontay said. "I've always been a receiver" going back to his Pop Warner pee wee days. And his guiding principle and the question he said he always asked himself was this: "What is a receiver who can't catch the ball?" Indeed, what is he?
He's not Deontay Burnett, who pretty much catches everything that comes his way and "has a special connection with the quarterback," Clay Helton said of the way Sam Darnold, who threw it to Deontay a year ago in bye week when the backups got a chance to shine.
"Very smooth," Tee said of Deontay's route-running, particularly noting his 11-yard TD catch against an eight-man Arizona drop when somehow he found a lane down the sideline in the end zone around that posse long enough for a scrambling Sam to find him with a bullet as he tiptoed inches inside the line with that great body control.
With 23 catches for 229 yards and two TD, Deontay was even with Mitchell (24 for 226 with one TD) already in what was basically a four-man rotation for the three spots. Now he'll have Jalen Greene, the quarterback turned wide receiver but sometimes Wildcat quarterback in the "Bandit" package, backing him.
"I say I'm primarily a wide receiver now -- actually I do get to run quarterback some in practice," Jalen said, "when we're playing a team with an athletic quarterback." Could he take over if USC needed him to play quarterback in a pinch?
"Most definitely," he said. "I was trained to be a quarterback and injuries do happen . . . it happened to our brother Steven, which is why I'm here. We talked about this that I'd be the No. 3 at the [slot] receiver spot." And now he'll have a regular role after three catches for 41 yards and four carries for another 12 in the first seven games.
"We're getting smarter fixing our mistakes," Jalen said. "There's a lot of camaraderie with this team."
Zach back on track
Zach Banner, who participated in a surprise presentation for a neighborhood elementary school award-winning teacher Tuesday morning, was in great "bounce-back" shape at practice after his return to action at Arizona after a sprained ankle. But for Banner, the best part of his day came at a 9 a.m. assembly at the Lou Dantzler Elementary School at 60th and Vermont where he was the special presenter of a surprise check for $10,000 to art teacher A.K. Usafi, an award made possible by the College Football Playoffs "Extra Yard for Teachers" initiative in conjunction with USC's Community Outreach program.
"It went great," Zach said. "I love speaking to kids." Usafi is an author/illustrator of children's books, a singer, songwriter and storyteller. As part of the surprise, the students were notified that they'll all be coming to the USC-Cal game Oct. 27 at the Coliseum.
Speaking of speaking, Zach was asked to describe why Sam Darnold has had such an instant impact in his four games as a starting quarterback at USC. :"When you talk 10 percent of the time and listen 90 percent of the time," you can do that, Zach said. But, but, but . . . Zach was about to be asked, but before the question could be worded, Zach had his answer. "I know, I'm the 90 percent the other way.. . . I love speaking."
Spotted Justin Davis for the first time after his high ankle sprain against Colorado at practice with his right ankle in a boot that Clay hopes will be off in a couple of days. He was moving pretty well . . . JuJu Smith-Schuster was out in pads but held from practice just to be safe with his sore back . . . Also Jordan Simmons (knee tendinitis) and Leon McQuay (groin) were at practice but won't participate until this weekend when practice moves from Cromwell Field back to Howard Jones where the grass was undergoing some midseason care this week . . . For more play-by-play on today's practice, check out TUESDAY BYE WEEK GHOST NOTES.
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