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For USC, focusing on future means getting past Rose Bowl glory

For USC, focusing on future means getting past Rose Bowl glory
USC wide receiver Deontay Burnett runs through drills on the first day of spring practice at Howard Jones Field. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It has been just over two months since Deontay Burnett caught one of the most memorable touchdown passes in recent USC history, a long, improvised route to tie the score late in a classic Rose Bowl game victory.

Yet Burnett claims that he has only seen video of the reception once, "scrolling through Twitter."

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"But other than that," Burnett said, "that's it."

Three sessions into spring practice, talking about the Rose Bowl has officially become uncool among USC, almost taboo.

Burnett said that he is "past the Rose Bowl."

"We've got to put that behind us," quarterback Sam Darnold said.

The cue was issued by Coach Clay Helton, who has urged the team not to be satisfied with its finish last season. Safety Chris Hawkins said Helton talks about the importance of moving on "every day."

Football's rounds of practices and team meetings give coaches the chance to hammer away at the same message, and players often pick up on the vernacular. A company line emerges. This time? That the first rule about winning the Rose Bowl is you don't talk about winning the Rose Bowl.

"This is a new team. This is a different team," Helton said. "We lost several men that we counted on a ton of snaps and leadership from. So we've accomplished nothing with this team."

Some players said they took a brief chance to savor the victory. Darnold said he rewatched the game with his family. Helton himself watched the television feed from the game once.

"It was rewarding," Helton said. "To go through a season like that, it was neat to see that memory happen. And it's something I'll never forget. The challenge to ourself as a full team is the have the discipline to move on and not live in the past but focus on the future.

"So I've watched it," he continued. "I won't watch it again."

Many happy returners

One of the most significant voids on USC's roster was left by the departure of Adoree' Jackson — not at cornerback but at returner.

Jackson was one of the best in the nation at both punt and kickoff returns. That leaves USC without a natural replacement. Finding one this spring, Helton said, has been "a daily emphasis."

Jack Jones and Michael Pittman Jr. returned a combined seven kickoffs last season, and Deontay Burnett and Pittman returned six total punts. All three took repetitions at returner on Saturday. Helton also named Velus Jones and Keyshawn Young as candidates. And he indicated he may be inclined to use different players on punts and kickoffs.

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"Both skill sets are very different," Helton said. "If you can find the guy that can do both, that's rare. We had one in Adoree'. So we may find one for each."

Quick hit

Helton announced on Thursday that safety John Plattenburg has decided to retire for medical reasons after suffering a concussion in the Rose Bowl game. "He's chosen to just concentrate on academics and go ahead and pull away from football," Helton said.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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