Sport College football's must-see QB: USC's Sam Darnold

06:21  21 april  2017
06:21  21 april  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

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3:10 | College Football . Spring camp preview: Alabama, USC and UCLA. Quickly. Quarterback Sam Darnold is bringing the star power back to USC , but Password Must be at least 6 characters and contain a number and an uppercase and lowercase letter. Confirm Password Passwords must match.

Sam Darnold (born June 5, 1997) is a college football quarterback for the USC Trojans. He began attending the school in 2015. Darnold was a two-sport athlete at San Clemente High School, playing football and basketball.

ANGELES — It was around the Arizona State game that Southern California defenders began to stand. One defender stood, followed by another. Then another, and another. Before the end of the regular season, the entire defense — barring injury or discussions with a position coach — would not sit on benches but stand along the sideline, pushing closer and closer to the field to get a better glimpse of Sam Darnold.

“I don’t sit down,” said junior linebacker Cameron Smith. “I just watch him.”

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Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold replaced Browne, and Darnold played well enough to win. For Sam , I think he’ s a little bit of both.” USC has had Darnold run sometimes, but not that often. The ability to read defenses, to see where your teammates are, all that stuff really translates.” Next Up In College Football .

Helton has maintained all along that the Trojan QB must be an elite thrower. Mar 8, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans quarterback Sam SEE ALSO: Is It Max Browne’ s Time To Be USC ’ s Starter? Or is Helton more interested in fielding an offense tuned to Darnold ’ s rhythm, moving

They wanted to see in action what they’d seen in practice. As a true freshman one year earlier, Darnold had torn through the defense as the scout team quarterback, routinely gouging the Trojans’ starters while defensive coaches fumed. They’d ask: Can’t you stop this guy?

“But there was nothing we could do,” senior safety Chris Hawkins recalled. So the Trojans found a silver lining. When Saturday does roll around, they said to one another, at least we know we faced a better quarterback during practice. “He was definitely a scout team legend,” USC coach Clay Helton said.

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USC head coach Clay Helton announced on Monday that his team is making a switch at quarterback from Max Browne to freshman Sam Darnold . Darnold is 14/22 for 136 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The freshman has seen some action in all three games. College Football .

And this wasn’t long after Darnold first stepped on campus. He’d had the option of enrolling early and joining USC for spring practice, like most quarterback recruits, but demurred. Injuries had cost him much of his junior year at San Clemente (Calif.) High School and Darnold wanted to chase a state basketball title with his friends. Go for it, USC coaches said.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing ever,” Helton said. “You rarely see that.”

It helped that the staff had a five-star quarterback signee in the same recruiting class — Ricky Town, who transferred not long after arriving on campus. Another former five-star prospect, Max Browne, started the first three games of last season before Darnold’s ascension to the starting job. He has also since transferred.

Years earlier, while growing in San Clemente, Calif., Darnold would attend several USC home games a year with his father, Mike. Night games were their favorite: Father and son playing catch outside of the Coliseum before kickoff, then again under streetlamps as they walked back to their car.

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Helton wanted to see Darnold throw a USC football — Nike brand, inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 psi — so he invited him up to Los Angeles at the end of June 2014 for a camp. The Los Angeles Times wondered: “Has USC ’ s Sam Darnold surpassed UCLA’ s Josh Rosen as city’ s top QB ?”

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Could they have known? Could anyone? Darnold was a legitimate prospect, but not even the most ballyhooed quarterback recruit in his own program’s signing class. He didn’t enroll early. He had played in just three games and attempted only 22 passes before his first career start. He’d lost the competition for the starting job during the preseason — a choice Helton called “the toughest decision of my career.”

But USC dropped Darnold’s debut, at Utah, and hasn’t lost since. He tossed five touchdowns to lead USC past Penn State in the Rose Bowl. He caused not just teammates to stand up and take notice but all of college football — not to mention NFL scouts and executives, who already are drooling over the young sophomore. He’s the brightest young star in the sport.

So who saw this coming? Maybe Helton. Maybe his friends in San Clemente. Certainly his family: Mike, a former offensive lineman at the University of Redlands; his mother, Chris, who played volleyball at Long Beach City College; and his sister, Franki, a two-time all-conference volleyball player at the University of Rhode Island.

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Even before he took over as USC football ’ s starting quarterback , the signs that Sam Darnold could be great were there to see . MORE: 10 Best USC QBs Ever. Once upon a time, a five-star prep quarterback named Ricky Town signed a letter of intent with USC and began his college career as

27 game between USC and Cal afforded Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold a chance to return to Capistrano Beach for the weekend and reconnect with those who would not reflexively revere him as the teenager who saved USC football .

And Darnold himself.

“I kind of expected it out of myself. I kind of expect to win a lot of games,” he said. “The stuff that comes with it, the sword and the ‘Fight On’ and all that? That’s all great. But I don’t like to get surprises mixed up with expectations. I think I expect that out of myself, if that makes sense.”

Confidence bubbles to the surface, but not cockiness. Others heap praise. “He’s such a dope talent,” said former offensive tackle Zach Banner. “His feel for the game is insane,” said linebacker Cameron Smith. “He’s a unique dude,” said former USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. “It’s like he’s been there, done that.”

The quarterback who nonchalantly led USC to a last-second Rose Bowl win has only once lost his temper, his father recalled: Darnold broke his pinky punching a locker following a loss in basketball during his junior year in San Clemente.

After tossing the game-tying touchdown against Penn State with little more than a minute left, as teammates roared and raced toward the sideline, Darnold stood calm, holding his fingers aloft as he looked toward Helton: Kick to tie or go for two?

“I would definitely say I’m reserved and shy. I’ve always been that way,” Darnold said. “I’ve definitely broken out of my shell a little bit, but I don’t think I’m going to change that much at all.”

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USC football is circling the wagons with Sam Darnold at quarterback , granting the wishes of many by going in the dual-threat direction. So a wish for some was granted — to see Sam Darnold start a game at QB .

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He hasn’t changed, even if the circumstances have. While noticeably different than his predecessors at the position — far more mobile, a dual-threat passer and runner, and certainly ahead of the curve — Darnold, like others before him, enters his sophomore season hyped as a Heisman Trophy contender. After last year’s torrid close, his team will begin September ranked inside the top five of the Amway Coaches Poll. There will be immense pressure, both individually and as a team, to match these expectations.

“I’m not worried about the hype or anything like that,” he said. “But yeah, I definitely realize that there is hype. I’m not blind to that. You’ve really got to put that in the rearview mirror and focus on what’s ahead of you.”

Darnold will meet those expectations “right in the middle,” Smith-Schuster said. Not too high and not too low, Darnold has always “been just a flat line,” his father said. He’s like a great golfer or pitcher, Helton said: “Whether it’s a strike or a ball, on the green or off, whether it’s good or bad, he’s onto the next one.”

This isn’t normal. Tossing 31 touchdowns and leading USC on an active nine-game winning streak as a first-year starter isn’t routine. Dominating the conversation at the NFL combine as a redshirt freshman isn’t typical. That the Trojans now follow Darnold’s lead — leaning away from glitz and glamour to embrace their quarterback’s steadiness — isn’t ordinary.

It’s unique. But so is Darnold. From his first days on campus, USC sensed something special. Even when sitting third on the depth chart as a true freshman, teammates knew he’d eventually be a first-round draft pick, Smith-Schuster said. Even in the beginning, when he dominated on the scout team, the Trojans wouldn’t marvel at what Darnold just did — they’d poke and nudge and smile, wondering just what he’d do next.

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The USC football quarterback competition is over, but as the season approaches, little has changed for Max Browne and Sam Darnold . Quarterbacks Max Browne and Sam Darnold during practice at Howard Jones Field.

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) looks to pass under pressure from Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Jason Cabinda (40) during the third quarter of the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. More College Football Features ».

What does come next? Hype and acclaim in equal measure. His face on billboards in Hollywood. Promise and potential. An auspicious debut eclipsed only by a bright future. Remember: Darnold’s only a sophomore. The legend is growing but far from complete. It’s enough to make anyone stand up and take notice.

“He’s making his own way,” Helton said. “He’s following a great lineage of quarterbacks, but he’s kind of putting his own stamp on the position, of the new-age quarterback that’s out there. It’s been redefined.”

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