As USC quarterback battle unfolded, Helton received fatherly wisdom

USC head football coach Clay Helton runs players through warm-ups during training camp at USC.
USC head football coach Clay Helton runs players through warmups during training camp at USC.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

As USC’s four-way quarterback competition took shape this preseason, Kim Helton shared a message with his son.

“‘This is pretty special,’” Clay Helton said, relaying a story his father told him from his days as an offensive coordinator at Miami in the early 1980s. “He remembers the time he had Jim Kelly and Vinny Testaverde and Bernie Kosar all in the same room.”

The fatherly wisdom came with a caveat though. Once roster decisions have to be made, such situations come with extra challenges too.


“It’s always hard when you have four great quarterbacks on campus,” Helton said, adding: “You’ve got to tell them, ‘Hey, you’re in this position. This is your role.’”

Earlier this week, Helton named sophomore JT Daniels the Trojans’ starter, as expected, but surprisingly tabbed true freshman Kedon Slovis for the backup role over veterans Matt Fink and Jack Sears. Now, as USC turns its attention toward hosting Fresno State in Week 1, the fifth-year coach is doing his best to keep everyone happy.

“All four kids can make all the throws,” Helton said. “That’s why they were given the honor of being in that competition.”

The USC quarterback competition may now be closed, but it was Kedon Slovis’ performance that was perhaps the most noteworthy part of the protracted camp battle.

Aug. 21, 2019

Selling Sears on a fourth-string role has been arguably Helton’s toughest task. The redshirt sophomore started in a loss to Arizona State last year, but couldn’t beat out Daniels, Fink or Slovis, who has exceeded expectations since arriving as a three-star recruit, this preseason.

“Obviously when you just get news, it’s got to settle in,” Helton said of Sears, who will get his degree at the end of this semester. “I’ll say this: Jack Sears is one of the best men I know, and one of the most honorable men I know, and one of the fiercest competitors I know.”


Just like last fall, when the anticipated five-star recruit arrived on campus, Daniels will start the season under center. Helton said the sophomore has taken more of the team-period reps this week, as USC has begun game-planning for its opener against the Bulldogs.

“I think he’s staying humble all the way through this thing,” Helton said. “I know he’s appreciated the competition and the continued [effort] of guys who everyday show up and push him. He does a tremendous job of being very business-like, this whole process. Both spring and fall. Now he’s in the position where he’s getting ready to prepare [for a] game. … I really like where he is at, and commended him for it.”

Slovis and Fink, who will be the No. 3 option after an uncertain offseason that saw him explore the transfer portal, have received the other team-period reps during the Trojans’ “mock-game situations” this week.

The rest of USC’s depth chart will be revealed next Friday.

“They’re all competing,” Helton said. “Even quarterback-wise, they’re out there competing and trying to out-show each other each and every day.”

Helton hoping for depth at running back

Helton indictated Vavae Malepeai has continued practicing this week after returning from a knee injury suffered earlier this month. Helton didn’t disclose how running back reps have been split, but said Malepeai, Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp have seen the most action of late. Helton also said injured redshirt junior tailback Quincy Jountti should be back on the practice field next week.


“The one thing you learn in this game, especially when there is a possibility of playing 15 games, you better play three or more backs,” Helton said. “Because they’re going to get dinged.”