Donte Williams hopes to reintroduce rejuvenated USC football in Coliseum debut
The day was always a highlight of the year. Getting free tickets to a USC game at the Coliseum was like a dream for Donte Williams and his Pop Warner teammates. Once a year, for one game, the kids playing for youth teams in Baldwin Hills cheered from the stands as the Trojans solidified their place in the city’s heart.
Decades later, Williams’ vantage point has changed drastically, but he is still getting free tickets.
The interim coach who went to high school less than eight miles from the Coliseum has secured 24 tickets for family and friends to watch him on the sideline during his home head coaching debut against Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. It’s a feel-good, full-circle moment for the Los Angeles native, but more important, it’s an opportunity for the hometown coach to reintroduce fans to a re-energized version of the program that’s fallen from its powerhouse perch.
Raised for greatness, Crenshaw’s Donte Williams is the first Black head football coach at USC, the program his mother dreamed he’d join.
“The last time we [were] at home didn’t go so well,” Williams said Thursday. “So it’s about going out there and showing our fans and showing our community just who we really are.”
Williams rallied the team for an emphatic victory at Washington State last week in which USC scored 45 consecutive points behind backup quarterback Jaxson Dart. Dart ignited a quarterback controversy by throwing for 391 yards, the most by a Trojan player making his debut, but limped off the field and will be sidelined indefinitely after knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
Junior quarterback Kedon Slovis practiced fully this week, showing no ill effects of the neck injury that necessitated Dart’s sudden rise or worries about possibly losing his job.
USC freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart underwent meniscus surgery earlier this week after sustaining an injury during last week’s win over Washington State.
The simmering quarterback competition is yet another complication in USC’s young season, but the Trojans are trying to establish accountability and consistency in a program that’s been short on both for years. It all begins with their new head coach.
“One day, one thing is really big to me and then the next it’s not such a big deal, then that’s the same with the players: they’ll be inconsistent,” Williams said. “I have to be the same person every day.”
Williams is “one of the hardest-working coaches I know,” cornerback Chris Steele said. The junior saw Williams’ impact up close last year when the assistant coach focused on cornerbacks and the pass defense. Even with Williams taking over as head coach, limiting his practice interactions with his cornerbacks, he still pops his head into meeting rooms to check on his position group.
The cornerbacks became like Williams’ immediate family, said Steele, who has had a long relationship with the coach that goes back to the high school recruiting trail, but he’s happy the family is growing under Williams.
“The type of person he is, the type of energy he brings, it’s only right that the team gets to have Donte Williams for them as well,” said Steele, who starred at Bellflower St. John Bosco.
Check out the latest updates on the USC football coaching search. Penn State coach James Franklin is considered a top candidate; Urban Meyer is not.
While naming the interim coach, athletic director Mike Bohn lauded Williams for his relationship-building skills, but the 39-year-old doesn’t do it by always being a fun uncle to players. He also appears as the disciplinarian father who prohibited hats and hoodies from meeting rooms and roped off the interlocking “SC” logo at the center of the locker room to ensure players don’t step on the symbol.
The small gestures seem inconsequential, but players say they add up to the larger vision of rehabilitating USC’s tarnished reputation.
“You’re at the University of Southern California, this is one of the greatest institutions in the world,” said safety Micah Croom, a La Mirada High alumnus who transferred to USC from Dartmouth. “Remember that it’s a blessing and an honor to be here.”
From watching in the stands to now coaching on the sideline, Williams recognizes the significance of the program. He admitted his head coaching debut in the Coliseum is personally meaningful after his own history but emphasized that the game means more to the team. It’s Williams’ own relationship to the program that makes players believe in his vision for the future.
“He truly does care because this is his hometown,” Steele said. “He’s trying to restore it back to how it used to be.”
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