USC: Aaron Ausmus

USC officially opens new McKay Center

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
8:32
PM PT

Pedro Moura/ESPNLA.com
The eight-word engraving around the main entrance to USC's new John McKay Center isn't exactly humble. But school officials say the university's long athletic history backs up the bold claim.

LOS ANGELES -- It's bold and it's brash, Mark Jackson admits of the main entrance to USC's new John McKay Center, a decade-in-the-making athletic facility that puts the school ahead of many of its competitors.

"But we think it's appropriate," says Jackson, the Trojans' senior associate athletic director who supervised the building's construction.

Above the front door to the building reads what can only be described as a bold proclamation: "Through this portal enter the world's greatest athletes."

The interior of the structure expresses similar sentiments written differently. "We own L.A." is written in block capital letters behind where coach Lane Kiffin will stand in the Trojans' football auditorium. "We run the Rose Bowl" is written elsewhere.

USC believes the university's traditions -- and the new facility -- backs up the claims. Included in the $70 million, 110,000-square foot facility, which opened last month but got officially introduced to donors Tuesday, is a two-story high-definition screen, a leathered-out players' lounge and an indoor practice field.

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Dillon Baxter "bigger, stronger and faster"

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
12:10
AM PT
Dillon Baxter didn’t think he’d make it all the way to the end zone on his best run Thursday.

The sophomore running back cut left at the line and quickly evaded two tacklers but knew he’d have to beat at least a safety to make it all the way, something he could rarely do as a first-year freshman in 2010. But Baxter did just that, using some newfound speed to motor past the would-be tackler and run it all the way for a score.

It was one of the more impressive plays of practice Thursday, the first day of fall camp for the Trojans. And it had USC coach Lane Kiffin absolutely raving afterward.

“Dillon, definitely, is bigger, stronger and faster than he was,” Kiffin said. “There’s no doubt about that. You can see that in the individual drills. He’s a different guy, attitude-wise. He’s a different guy physically. It’s great to see.

That’s high praise from any coach, but especially from Kiffin to Baxter. The two had a strained relationship throughout the 2010 season because of Baxter’s attitude and off-the-field issues. That relationship seemed somewhat better in the spring, with no clear conflicts between the two, but it seems entirely gone now.

"We talked to him about being a consistent running back," Kiffin said Thursday. "We started that in the spring, and he got better with it as the spring went along, and he’s doing a great job with it now."

How did Baxter get faster? Asked that question Thursday, he said only two letters: "AA," or Aaron Ausmus, USC's strength and conditioning coach.

Said Baxter: “I’ve pretty much just been going on [his] whole plan, and I guess it’s working."

The book on the 5-11, 195-pound Baxter often goes over his reportedly superb speed, but, in truth, he's maybe an average-speed guy for the running back position. His elite agility is why he was a top prospect as a prep -- not the speed. And he's not USC's fastest runner, either -- that title goes to redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan, a track star in high school.

Baxter freely admits he's not the fastest on the team. He seems more comfortable with that than he was upon his arrival at USC last spring, almost to the point where he's afraid to talk about his speed to the media. Told of Kiffin's comments and asked if he himself felt faster than he was previously, Baxter didn't say much.

"A little bit faster," he said. "A little bit."

Wednesday practice report: Breakdown

October, 20, 2010
10/20/10
5:51
PM PT
Notes, quotes and video from Wednesday's practice:
  • Another day, another 6 a.m. practice. The Trojans completed their second of three scheduled early-morning practices Wednesday and again finished it off with a grueling round of sprints in the rain. The 90-minute practice was held on the artificial turf of Cromwell Field because of the rainy and wet conditions at practice time.
  • With strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus shouting out encouragements every few seconds, the Trojans concluded the practice with three heats of full-field sprints split up by position groups. The first heat was won handily by freshman receiver Robert Woods. Punter Jake Harfman came in first on the second and walk-on tight end/defensive end Peter Yobo won the last one with competition from left tackle Matt Kalil.
  • Said sophomore safety T.J. McDonald of the fast-paced practice style this week -- and the sprints at the end: "No one's gonna say that they like to run, but it's gonna help us. We need that. And after those two losses, Coach [Lane Kiffin] called us up and we said that we would do anything not to feel that feeling again, not to have that nasty taste in our mouths. So, this running, if that's what we have to do, then we're all willing to do it. We bought in completely and we're ready to play Oregon."

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Friday practice report

August, 6, 2010
8/06/10
9:06
PM PT
Here are your usual notes, quotes and video from Friday's practice, the longest yet of fall camp at over three hours:
  • The latest on the Stanley Havili-T.J. Bryant situation is here. Havili was not allowed to practice Friday by coach Lane Kiffin and has been suspended indefinitely -- despite apparent "begging" from Bryant to allow Havili to escape punishment.
  • More news came when Kiffin said he had "great confidence" in what his regime did during his year at Tennessee in 2009. Of course, that comment came in response to the news that Tennessee is under NCAA investigation for a variety of alleged minor recruiting violations that occurred under Kiffin.
  • In Havili's absence, it appears redshirt freshman Simione Vehikite will be the latest Trojan to move over to fullback. Vehikite, previously a linebacker, spent all of Friday's practice at the position. On Wednesday, former tight end Rhett Ellison began practicing at the position, in a move Kiffin said was made to provide depth after the transfer of D.J. Shoemate. Kiffin has not committed to leaving either player at the spot in the long term.
  • On the subject of position changes, Kiffin said Friday he plans to try all three of the freshmen tight ends on the defensive side of the ball at some point in fall camp. Christian Thomas continued to impress during practice, while the physically imposing Xavier Grimble displayed an unusual combination of size and speed with a couple of post-catch runs. Randall Telfer has played solidly.
  • Injury report: left tackle Matt Kalil dressed but again sat out of practice because of a hamstring injury suffered last week. A trio of receivers -- freshman Kyle Prater (groin), sophomore De'Von Flournoy (shoulder) and junior Brandon Carswell (thigh) -- stayed on the sidelines during practice with injuries, although Carswell stayed a while after practice catching balls from walk-on quarterback John Manoogian.
  • Speaking of walk-on quarterbacks, the Trojans got another Friday when redshirt sophomore Emon Saee was officially announced as a new member of the team. Saee, a Calabasas native, has not played football since high school.
  • Sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley was clearly off his game Friday after a sharp performance Thursday, but Kiffin said nothing was off physically with his starting signal-caller. Midway through practice, backup Mitch Mustain was tripped up by one of his own offensive linemen during a play and looked as if he was limping for a bit of time. His first pass after the incident was an ugly flutterer that missed its intended target by more than five yards in the end zone, but the senior soon rebounded and was back to his normal self shortly.
  • An on-field highlight: when senior Allen Bradford motored around left end for a touchdown on Brian Kennedy Field early on in practice, he celebrated by spiking the ball in the end zone. But new offensive coordinator and running backs coach Kennedy Pola quickly established order by ordering Bradford to pick up the ball, run a lap, and not do it again.
  • A few final notes: Newly-minted scholarship lineman Abe Markowitz was the subject of a complimentary post-practice comment from Kiffin, who attributed the early awarding of a scholarship -- scholarship earners are usually announced at the end of fall camp -- to Markowitz' financial situation. Markowitz' father, Barry, said late Thursday that his son worked six days a week on campus to help pay for tuition and expenses. ... USC donned half-pads Friday for the first time. The first padded practice of the fall, Sunday's, will also be treated as the Trojans' first of four "preseason games" during camp, Kiffin said. ... Two USC assistants -- offensive line coach James Cregg and defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza -- were on Kiffin's staff during his one-year tenure at Tennessee. Strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus also worked for the Volunteers.

***

Kiffin addressed the Havili-Bryant situation as soon as he began to speak to reporters Friday. His disappointment with Havili seemed to be a bit of a change in stance from Thursday, when he immediately defended the senior fullback. Hear all of Kiffin's comments on the altercation and its consequences in his post-practice meeting with reporters:



With Bryant being out for at least three weeks, Brian Baucham and Torin Harris are essentially embroiled in a one-on-one battle for the second starting cornerback spot. Friday, the engaging Baucham talked about that situation, addressed the 2009 motorcycle accident that limited him for much of last season and compared himself and Harris as corners:

One-on-one with Ronald Johnson

March, 29, 2010
3/29/10
11:39
AM PT
On the eve of spring practice, receiver Ronald Johnson is being counted on to be the No. 1 receiver for the Trojans this season. Johnson was expected to be USC's deep threat last season opposite former receiver Damian Williams, only to break his collarbone in a freak accident at the end of fall camp, one week before the season was start to start. After returning at Notre Dame, Johnson totaled 34 catches for 378 yards for the season, but he was largely kept under wraps. Now, the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster is at full strength and ready to begin preparation for the 2010 season. We caught up with him over the weekend.

Question: Spring practice starts Tuesday. You're excited, I assume. Describe your feelings just as everything’s about to start.

Ronald Johnson: I just can’t wait. I feel like I’m just at the peak of my game, and I can’t wait to show it.

Q: Some have said the team may have lacked leadership last season. Do you think you can fill a possible leader role on this year's team?

RJ: I’m definitely ready for it. I’m a senior now, and I have to be more vocal. I’m stepping up to that, because I’ve been more of a lead-by-example person before.

Q: Not only does this week feature the beginning of spring practice, but Wednesday's also Pro Day at USC. What are you thinking when you see guys like Damian working out with tons of NFL scouts and coaches in attendance?

RJ: In a thing like that, I’ll just sit back and watch the good things that he’s doing and the bad things so that I can learn from them. I kinda picture myself in that situation, running my routes and catching every ball, running down the field to catch the ball, little things like that.

Q: Speaking of pro scouts and all — now, the injury obviously derailed your plans, but had you ever thought about declaring for the draft after last season?

RJ: It definitely was on my mind, leaving in three years. Last year, coming right up to the season, I felt like I couldn’t be stopped and I was one of the best. But then I got injured and things changed and I feel like it was just God telling me to get my degree and graduate.


Q: You made news this offseason with claims that you would win the Heisman Trophy in 2010. Do you think that's a realistic opportunity?

RJ: I feel like it’s a possibility. That’s one of the goals I want to achieve — getting the Heisman, not only for myself but also for my teammates.

Q: You guys have a lot of new assistant coaches, but I've heard a lot of praise about new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus. Personally, how are you adjusting to Ausmus' teachings in the weight room?


RJ: It’s definitely benefiting me. This guy is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met, as far as a weight-training coach. I talk to him almost every day. He pumps me up and gets me ready. Everything he’s teaching us is on point. I can’t wait to explode like I’m supposed to because of the training he has us doing.

Q: Obviously there was a coaching change at the top, but how much do you feel Lane Kiffin’s offense will allow you to develop and showcase yourself as a receiver?

RJ: He told me from the jump that he gave the ball to Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith like 90 times in one year. And I’m like, “Wow, I can get the ball 90 times in one year?” I just feel like I’m blessed to be in this situation right now.

Q: You finished the 2009 season 9-4 — obviously not what you expected. Since the season ended in December, have you ever replayed certain moments and/or games in your head and regretted a thing or two?

RJ: I think about it every day. I try to get it out of my mind, so I don’t have to think about it, but I can’t. I think it could have been totally different.

Q: Before you get to spring practice, you first had to go through all of the spring workouts and whatnot. In those, you got to observe kind of the first USC practices for guys like Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter. Your thought process behind seeing them in workouts?

RJ: First of all, it makes me feel old when these guys come in here. But, these guys, they’re both competitive. I like the energy they’re bringing, and I took them under my wing and let them know what it takes to be in the position that I’m in right now. Those guys are definitely ahead of the game.

Q: You have said in the past that you weren’t really able to develop an on-field relationship with Matt Barkley last year, partly because of injury, until late in the season. Have you had the opportunity to this offseason?

RJ: Yes. I go out with Barkley, I text him, I call him. I try to do every little thing just to get that connection, to be around that guy and understand the things that he does and the things that I do. He should know me like a book now.

Q: Is it ever hard for you to not think about the injury and not feel a tentative on the field?

RJ: As of now, I don’t really think about it any more. If my technique’s like it’s supposed to be and my timing with the quarterback is like it’s supposed to be, then I won’t have any problems. I’m just working on my technique to the point where I know where everybody is on the field.

Q: Lastly, more than anything else, what would you say you're excited about this season?

RJ: I'm looking for nothing but fun. If the Heisman comes, it comes. If the national championship comes, it comes. I'm just looking to have a full year under my belt and an exciting season with teammates I'm going to be leaving after this season. I just want to have fun with these guys.

Johnson and the Trojans open up spring practice Tuesday at 4 p.m., with 15 practices over the next month before the May 1 Trojan Huddle.

One-on-one with Brice Butler

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
10:29
PM PT
Receiver Brice Butler is among a group of receivers who USC coaches are counting on to help replace the lost production of Damian Williams, who declared early for the NFL draft. Butler was third among Trojans receivers in both catches and yards with 20 catches for 292 yards and two scores. With senior Ronald Johnson presumptively moving up to be quarterback Matt Barkley's No. 1 target, Butler will be an important safety valve. At 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, scouts have said he represents almost the prototypical receiver in terms of size and route-running ability. We caught up with Butler, who will be a redshirt sophomore next season, to get his take on the approaching season, his memories of last year and all kinds of other topics:

Pedro Moura: Spring practice is approaching in less than three weeks. What can you do in that time to prepare?

Brice Butler: The only thing we can do right now is just work hard. We've got a whole bunch of new coaches, so we're just making sure that they know that we're here to work and not lolly-gag. You don't want to make a bad first impression on any of the coaches. Everybody right now has a real big sense of urgency. A lot of guys are just hungry and they're just working hard right now. We have an all-new coaching staff. The only guys who really know these coaches are the fifth-year seniors, and they don't really have anything solidified either.

Moura: USC athletes have performed well in postseason workouts. What was your take on Taylor Mays' much-talked about 40-yard dash time?

Butler: I knew he was gonna run fast, I just didn't know he was gonna run that fast. He was the fastest guy, pound-for-pound, at the combine.

Moura: You have a new strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Ausmus. He replaced a guy, Chris Carlisle, who was very well-respected by Trojans current and past. What's the difference between those two coaches?

Butler: I like Coach A a lot. He holds everybody accountable. I wasn't here when Coach Carlisle first started at USC, so I don't know if he had more fire to him when he first got here, but you can tell that Coach A has more fire than Coach Carlisle. Coach A's a lot more hands on with everything that we do than Coach Carlisle. I'm not sure that Coach Carlisle should have been doing that, but I know they're two different people. From my standpoint, I like what Coach A's doing right now. I'm not saying I didn't like Coach Carlisle's workouts, but I just really like the fire that Coach A brings to the training room.

Moura: You've got a couple of guys, Kyle Prater and Dillon Baxter, in workouts with you already this semester after they enrolled early. Describe your thought process on having guys in camp who essentially are trying to take your spot?

Butler: I don't worry about anything, but I like it for them. For them, it's pretty much, learn what you can learn, and I try to tell them as much as I can tell them. It's fun. If everybody could come early, that'd be good. We never really have to worry about a spot being taken, everybody has the same amount of fight for the same job, so it doesn't change regardless of who comes.

Moura: In daily conversation with your teammates, does the focus of the conversation trend more toward next season or revisiting last season?

Butler: Everybody's putting last year aside, since we didn't do too well. We feel like, 'Man, that was a bad season. We haven't had a season like that in a long time.' Everybody knows how that feels, and it doesn't feel good. With Coach Kiffin here, everybody's just excited about next year.

Moura: Talk a little about yourself. From Georgia, you're known to be proud of where you're from. How do all of the USC guys from different states get along — and is there ever anything like Southeast vs. West or something like that?

Butler: Yeah. Me and T.J. [Bryant] are always talking to the California guys saying the South is better than California, since California's equal to like three East Coast states. There's plenty more guys on the team from California, so me, T.J., Jawanza [Starling], we always get into like cool arguments about who's better. But it's all in good spirits.

Hello Seattle

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
9:31
PM PT
USC coach Kevin O'Neill's squad departed for Seattle, Wash. this afternoon — but not before a quick practice to prepare to face the Washington Huskies, a team the Trojans beat 87-61 last month at the Galen Center.

Here's the thing, though: Washington's improved. The Huskies beat Stanford on the road last weekend, using what O'Neill called their "best half of the season" to secure the victory.

Forward Quincy Pondexter, who was held to a season-low two points at the Galen Center, hasn't scored fewer than 17 points in a game since. Guard Isaiah Thomas, who shot just 3-of-10 last time, averaged 22 points last weekend. And reserve guard Venoy Overton, who was the Huskies' leading scorer with 18 points against USC, has three double-figure games in the six since.

As for USC, the Trojans swept Cal, Stanford and UCLA on a three-game homestand. None were blowouts; all were close fights the Trojans managed to pull out — something they failed to do earlier in Pac-10 conference play. And O'Neill saw something out of his team that he says he appreciates.

“Those were three must-wins we had to have,” O’Neill said. “And we got them, from a variety of sources."

A variety of sources indeed. Against UCLA, guard Dwight Lewis had a marquee game and guard Donte Smith stepped up off the bench. Against Stanford, forward Nikola Vucevic and point guard Mike Gerrity were the only two Trojans in double figures. Against Cal, seven of the eight USC players who logged minutes scored between six and 13 points — the epitome of a balanced scoring attack.

Essentially, as O'Neill said, "Every one of those games saw different guys do different things."

But the Huskies will be more prepared for the Trojans this time around, O'Neill maintains.

"Every bit," he said. "And, they play much better at home then they do on the road."

Notes: In other athletic news, USCfootball.com reports that Lane Kiffin is "close" to hiring a new assistant, Arkansas State's Clay Helton. Helton was an assistant at Memphis for 10 years before taking the offensive coordinator spot at Arkansas State this offseason ... The USC official site reports that praise rolls in for new strength and conditioning coach Aaron Ausmus, officially hired earlier this month. Around the coaching world, Ausmus has been known to command a significant presence in the weight room ... USC will appear before the NCAA Infractions Committee beginning on Thursday in Tempe, Ariz. The Orange County Register reports former coach Pete Carroll will be in attendance.

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