LOS ANGELES —The perks are new.
In April, Clay Helton served as the grand marshal for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
A week later, he tossed the ceremonial first pitch at a Dodgers game. No, he won’t replace injured Clayton Kershaw in the rotation for the next four to six weeks.
“I’m a slow righty,” Helton said. “They don’t want me out there.”
Helton has emerged as a popular local sports figure in the wake of guiding USC to its first Rose Bowl victory since the Pete Carroll era, capping his first full season as the Trojans’ head coach.
As his profile has grown since January, have his players noticed any change?
“He doesn’t sound any different than when he was recruiting me, when he was the quarterback coach, offensive coordinator,” quarterback Sam Darnold said this week. “He’ll never change for anyone. That’s his biggest advice that he’s given me, to never change and to always stay yourself.”
Helton has settled in, entering the second season of his tenure, which formally begins Saturday afternoon when the Trojans open training camp on campus.
Much of the recent drama has faded.
When USC started camp last August, Helton was a rookie head coach after succeeding Steve Sarkisian, who had been fired amid alcohol-related issues and other behavior midway through the previous season. Helton hired seven new assistants, including three new coordinators. Most notably, he oversaw a quarterback competition between Max Browne and Darnold to replace three-year starter Cody Kessler.
This time? Helton has continuity on his staff, returning eight of nine full-time assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Tee Martin, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter. There is a commanding figure behind center, with Darnold, considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. A majority of the starters return on offense and defense.
USC’s football program, at least for now, looks stable, and Helton…