It really is a new start for USC football

The first training-camp practice of the Lane Kiffin era at USC featured all of the usual huddles.

The Trojans gathered as a team around their new coach, and the offense and defense received play calls behind the line of scrimmage from their typical alignments.

But while the Trojans went through Wednesday’s nearly three-hour workout, new President Max Nikias and Athletic Director Pat Haden entered the facility and gathered with other senior administrators for a head-turning huddle.

Nikias’ appearance, and that of a cadre of compliance officials, put an exclamation point on a day that marked the start of USC’s post- NCAA sanctions season.

“I think he’s trying to send a signal that this is important to him,” Haden said of Nikias.

The main message at practice is that USC will take no chances as it moves to escape the cloud of four years’ probation, a two-year bowl ban and other major penalties handed down by the NCAA in June.

A motivational sign taped to the gate of the practice facility read “Lock In.” But for fans and others accustomed to attending practices, it was a lockout.

USC, which drew hundreds to practice when former coach Pete Carroll extended the welcome mat, worked out Wednesday before a few family members and a crowd of reporters and camera operators, all of whom were required to sign in and wear wristbands.

A group of fans that regularly attended practice during Carroll’s open-door era was forced to stand outside, where it greeted players and coaches making their way to the workout.

“For all of us here, the regulars, it’s like collateral damage,” said Ed Bubar, who graduated from USC and its pharmacy school in the 1970s.

Kiffin and his players were just glad to be practicing football after the tumult of the last seven months.

“It was a sigh of relief to forget about everything else that’s going on and concentrate on football,” quarterback Matt Barkley said.

Kiffin, who was an assistant under Carroll for six seasons, said he was only briefly cognizant of the absence of fans and the old atmosphere.

“The first 10 minutes maybe you noticed, but after that it didn’t make a difference,” he said.

Said Barkley: “I was watching tape from last summer and it was just outrageous how many people were on the sideline so, I mean, I don’t care. It’s just a change like all these other changes, so embrace it.”

As he often did during spring practice, Kiffin praised Barkley, senior wide receiver Ronald Johnson, freshman running back Dillon Baxter and the defensive front seven for their performances.

Sour on sweets

Kiffin had informed players on Tuesday night that they would probably be mad because, for nutritional purposes, desserts in the team’s dining hall were no longer available.

“No more cookies,” offensive lineman Butch Lewis said, shaking his head.

Lewis, who has played both guard and tackle spots, sat out spring practice because of a hip and groin injury. But he went through the full workout Wednesday and said he was prepared to participate in all drills and play wherever needed.

“If they need me to play center, that’s what I’ll do,” he said.

Lewis graduated in December, so he said his academic load will be light during the fall semester.

“I’m doing the Matt Leinart thing and taking a dance class,” he said, chuckling. Then, pointing to the former Trojans quarterback’s retired No. 11 in Heritage Hall, he added, “His jersey isn’t up there for nothing.”

Quick hits

Offensive tackle Tyron Smith was absent to attend a funeral, Kiffin said. Offensive tackle Matt Kalil sat out because of a hamstring strain and defensive lineman Armond Armstead was treated for dehydration…. With Stanley Havili the only scholarship fullback, tight end Rhett Ellison took snaps at the position and could remain there, Kiffin said…. Senior tailback Allen Bradford on new offensive coordinator Kennedy Pola: “He taught me a lot already in one day.”