No matter what, Amon-ra St. Brown was always going to play in the Coliseum this season. If Equanimeous St. Brown had decided to return for his senior season at Notre Dame, Amon-ra would very likely be suiting up with the Fighting Irish when they visit USC on Thanksgiving weekend.
Instead, his older brother chose to enter the NFL draft early, opening the door wide open for the Trojans to close in on the Anaheim Hills product who finished his prep career at Santa Ana Mater Dei as the top-ranked player in the state and among the best receivers nationally.
On Thursday, USC practiced at the Coliseum for the first time in fall camp. And, wearing cardinal and gold instead of blue and gold, Amon-ra St. Brown looked right at home.
Leading into Saturday’s scrimmage at the Coliseum, USC coach Clay Helton wanted the Trojans’ young quarterbacks and receivers to get a feel for what it’s like to air it out in the venerable stadium, which is under renovation until the 2019 season.
In 11-on-11 team drills, redshirt freshman Jack Sears evaded an outside rush, moved up in the pocket and fired a deep pass down the left side. St. Brown beat fellow true freshman Olaijah Griffin for a 40-yard touchdown.
Later, St. Brown beat his man again deep. True freshman quarterback JT Daniels, St. Brown’s teammate at Mater Dei and roommate at USC, led him a little, and St. Brown had to stretch out for it. He corralled it, but lost it on his way to the ground. Still, the point was made.
“I tell you what: I’ve walked in here for nine years, and usually you see the freshmen and they’re all big-eyed, and sometimes it’s too big for them right now,” Helton said. “Amon-ra walked in here and it’s like he’s played here for 10 years. It was neat to watch him perform today. He’s really taking major strides for us. He reminds me kind of like [Robert Woods] in our first year here, how he stepped on the scene and was just ready to play.”
St. Brown, listed at 6 feet 1 and 195 pounds, is physically ready. He also brings an intense focus that Helton said had veterans bragging about him during player-run practices this summer. St. Brown told The Times in June that his goal for this season was to win the Heisman Trophy. He most certainly was not kidding.
“He’s going to play a lot — early,” offensive coordinator Tee Martin said.
On the surface, it would look like the Trojans’ starting trio of receivers is set with Tyler Vaughns and Michael Pittman Jr. on the outside and Velus Jones Jr. in the slot. But one of the exciting things about St. Brown is that coaches can put him anywhere with his skill set. At a minimum, his presence will force the veterans to earn their spot on the first team.
“I like him everywhere,” Martin said. “He’s smart. He can do it. He’s like one of those Nelson Agholor, Robert Woods type of guys in terms of intelligence. Amon-ra is very advanced for being a young guy.”
Daniels has been wearing a wrap around a finger on his left hand for a few days. He wore a glove Thursday but was a full-go at practice. “He actually just got his nail bent back,” Helton said. “It’s probably going to fall off and just for preventative measures to not get infected or anything, we’ve got a glove on it.” … Helton said that true freshman linebacker Palaie Gaoteote IV hurt his knee and will undergo a MRI exam. … Other new injuries: Pittman (shoulder), Jake Lichtenstein (calf), Levi Jones (ankle), Jake Russell (hamstring), John Houston (banged knee).