10 USC Freshmen

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Lane Kiffin is not one to throw out compliments recklessly.

In 2006, as USC's offensive coordinator, he slammed All-American wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett in a radio interview for his play in a game the Trojans won 50-14.

So when, after his first spring scrimmage as head coach, Kiffin threw out the biggest tribute possible to running back Dillon Baxter, college football took notice.

"Dillon looked like Reggie versus Fresno," Kiffin said.

Yes, that Reggie. Reggie Bush, mister electric, the best big-play threat in a generation.

Yes, against Fresno State. 513 all-purpose yards, a Pac-10 record, the performance that clinched the Heisman.

All for Baxter's 50-yard scamper that set YouTube on fire.

"(The hype) keeps growing, but consistency is always big," said Baxter, who accounted for 79 offensive touchdowns in his final season at Mission Bay High School in San Diego, a state record. "People are going to be expecting a lot out of me, so during the offseason I have to work hard. Definitely have to work on my speed. I feel like I have to get faster and get a little bigger."

That wasn't the only highlight reel play turned in by a true freshman this spring. Wide receiver Kyle Prater, a 6-foot-5 doppelganger for Jarrett or Mike Williams out of Illinois' Proviso West, had several spectacular grabs.

And if USC wants to get back to the BCS, it will need every one of those big plays from Baxter and Prater. Hardly a juggernaut last season, the Trojan offense must replace its top rusher and receiver. It produced only four touchdowns of 50 yards or longer.

That won't cut it in a conference with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Nick Foles, LaMichael James and Jacquizz Rodgers on opposing sidelines. The team with the highest-powered offense will win the Pac-10 title.

Kiffin knows that. His first priority after taking the USC job was to ensure Baxter and Prater resisted overtures from the likes of Oregon, Florida and Notre Dame and enrolled in school as planned.

It wasn't just the opportunity to work with them for 15 practices, but to get Prater and Baxter into the strength and conditioning program, through a semester of college, to digest the playbook and understand the time demands required at this level.

"These guys came in and had a couple months to get ready physically and mentally," quarterback Mitch Mustain said. "These five weeks were really important for them. They'll have a huge advantage come the fall with really eight months under their belt."

"Me and Kyle have been able to get the whole playbook down, get used to the whole college environment, get our classes down," Baxter said. "It's a big help."

It showed in the spring game.

Playing with his left thumb in a heavy wrap that essentially left him one-handed, Prater caught four passes for 40 yards and a score. He also got dirty as a blocker, taking out two defenders on a long touchdown.

Baxter's virtuoso end-of-spring performance, 129 yards and a touchdown, positioned him for a major role starting with the Sept. 2 opener at Hawaii.

"He had a good day," Kiffin said. "I really like the kid too because of his personality in the huddle, he doesn't seem like a senior in high school. He seems like he's been doing it for a while."

One play, a 58-yard run, sent Kiffin into the virtual realm to describe the back-to-back spin moves he demonstrated at the line of scrimmage.

"It's the R2 button," he said.

Imagine what Kiffin will say when Baxter does it in a game that counts.