USC suspends running back Dillon Baxter

Dillon Baxter, USC’s prized freshman running back, has been suspended for next month’s season opener at Hawaii for violating team rules, Coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday.

Kiffin declined to say what team rules Baxter had broken. Baxter was unavailable for comment Wednesday, one day after he spent two practices on the sideline going through a series of punitive conditioning drills.

A source with knowledge of the situation said Baxter was the unnamed individual cited in a USC Department of Public Safety incident report for “violating a team curfew” and “being under the influence of a controlled substance” that was filed at 2:47 a.m. Tuesday. The report, which could be viewed over the Internet, indicates the incident occurred at Fluor Tower, where USC football players are housed for the first few weeks of training camp.

The report said the student, who was not identified, “was cited to Judicial Affairs,” meaning the incident will be dealt with by campus authorities.

The source, who requested anonymity because they were unauthorized to speak publicly about the matter, said officers smelled marijuana in the dormitory.

Kiffin said Tuesday night that he was unaware of any report and declined to specify why Baxter was not allowed to practice. Asked if he was aware of an incident in the dorm involving Baxter, Kiffin responded, “Depending on what you call an incident.” He later met in his office with Baxter.

Asked Wednesday after the Trojans’ morning walkthrough if the report related to Baxter, Kiffin and other school officials declined to comment, citing privacy issues that prevent them from speaking publicly about students that have been cited to the school’s Office of Judicial Affairs.

Kiffin said he decided to suspend Baxter after “examining his seven months here.”

“I looked at it as a total package and felt that this was an extremely strong message to him, to our team, and the freshman class of our expectations,” the coach added.

Baxter, from San Diego, enrolled at USC in January and made several highlight plays during spring practice, including a spectacular run in the Trojans’ final scrimmage at the Coliseum. He has figured prominently in the Trojans’ plans.

“This is a very, very severe punishment, but it was imperative to make a strong message, especially to our first group of freshmen our first year here, and potentially the most talented player on the team, that we have high standards for our players on and off the field,” Kiffin said.

On Tuesday morning, while teammates practiced, Baxter and freshman receiver Markeith Ambles ran, rolled on the turf and did calisthenics.

Afterward, Kiffin told reporters the players were being punished for being “late for something.” Ambles participated in the evening workout, but Baxter was again relegated to the sideline where he performed more punitive drills.

Asked afterward why Baxter was still being punished and doing exercises while Ambles participated, Kiffin told reporters: “There’s just things that you have your opinion on of whether people make mistakes, whether people make choices on purpose. And so I felt Markeith it was more of a mistake and I felt Dillon’s was more severe.”

Baxter resumed practicing with the team Wednesday afternoon. Asked if Baxter would accompany the Trojans to Honolulu, Kiffin said, “I do not know that. I’m still looking at that and we have plenty of time to decide that.”

The suspension is the latest in a string of distractions that have roiled Kiffin’s first training camp.

The week before the Trojans reported to campus for training camp, the Tennessee Titans sued Kiffin and USC for the 11th-hour hiring of Kennedy Pola as offensive coordinator.

Last Thursday, after the Trojans’ second practice, Kiffin revealed that cornerback T.J. Bryant had undergone surgery for a broken cheekbone that was suffered in an altercation with fullback Stanley Havili the week before training camp opened. The same day, Kiffin was forced to address published reports that NCAA investigators had questioned current and former assistants at Tennessee about possible recruiting violations during Kiffin’s 14-month tenure in Knoxville. Kiffin also said he was told by a USC official that the NCAA investigators would come to USC to question him and four coaches he hired from the Tennessee staff.