Not All Would Have Given Fink a Second Chance

But Clay Helton had given the quarterback his blessing to look around, and Fink took his word. The USC coach allowed him to search for a grad transfer opportunity, and he stood by as Fink seemingly chose Illinois, where coach Lovie Smith told his family in May he would compete for a starting job. Then, when Fink reversed course and opted to stay in L.A., Helton welcomed him back with open arms. Just as he said he would.

“I have to give it to Coach Clay for the guy he is,” Fink says. “That relationship, that’s the reason why I was able to come back.”

It’s not a relationship all Pac-12 coaches offer their players. At the conference’s media day last month, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made it clear he wouldn’t accept the circumstances Fink brought upon himself. Coaches currently have the option to cut off aid for players who enter the transfer portal.

“Most coaches take the same stance that we do,” Whittingham said. “If you go to the portal, then you’re done here. There’s no coming back. It’s not shop yourself around, if I get a better deal, take it; if not, I’ll come back.”

But for Fink, who would’ve been immediately eligible at Illinois, that’s exactly how it worked out. And now, as fall camp winds down, he’s still competing for the starting quarterback job that he was searching for this past spring.

The redshirt junior remains a longshot to unseat JT Daniels as USC’s starter under center, but Helton told him, upon his return, that he would still get a shot. And so far, as all four of USC’s quarterbacks have received mostly equal reps, that’s been the case.

“Myself, I’m very competitive,” Fink said. “I don’t give up.”

A chance at earning the starting job, however, was not the driving force behind Fink’s decision to return.

“I went on and checked out a couple of schools, from California, from out of state, just trying to go play,” Fink said. “But what it came down to was the guys on this team mean a lot to me. I wasn’t going to get that same camaraderie, the brotherhood, the togetherness, anywhere else.”

Still, he worried, at first, that those teammates might not accept him back. But like with his coach, that was never a problem.

“Everybody’s story is different,” Helton said at media day, “and this transfer portal that we’ve had, that’s the one thing that going into it I realized that each story and each case is going to be different. You’re dealing with 18- to 21-year-olds that have situations in their life that they need to figure out for themselves what’s best for them, and that takes time.”

Having gone through the portal — and returned to tell the tale, Fink hopes others might someday be afforded the same right.

“I think you should be able to enter and do what I did, check out your options, see what you have, and then still be able to stay where you’re at,” Fink said. “This is my home … and I know now I don’t want to leave here.”

Competition up front

For the vast majority of camp, USC’s first unit up front has remained largely the same. But as far as Tim Drevno is concerned, the offensive line is far from solidified.

“Our motto in the room is don’t worry about the depth chart,” the coach said. “Just do your job, and you’ll figure it out as you go.”

Except, USC already seems to have that part figured out. Left tackle Austin Jackson and right guard Andrew Vorhees, the only two remaining starters from last season, were already entrenched in their roles. In the spring, center Brett Neilon, left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, and right tackle Jalen McKenzie established themselves at their respective positions.

Since, there haven’t been many other shake-ups.

Offensive tackle Drew Richmond, who transferred from Tennessee in the offseason, slotted in for Jackson while he was recovering from a bone marrow transplant. On Tuesday, he played some right tackle, while McKenzie cross-trained at right guard. In the case of injury, Richmond appears to be USC’s swing tackle of choice.

But without much of a position battle, one of USC’s most uncertain units a year ago appears to have become one of its most settled. Even if Drevno isn’t ready to concede that just yet.

“There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed,” he said.

latimes.com

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TrojanMPA90
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Why does what Drevno says about a lot to be fixed cause me great worries with the season only about two weeks away from starting. I hope the unit does better than last season. At least we have a real center this year.

Trojan5
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Good morning TDB. I have a philosophical question for you. Should a starter lose his position due to injury? As an example: A Jackson was penciled in as starter on the OLine, but has missed a lot of time when he donated bone marrow to his sister. If D Richmond established he was the better player, should he be named the starter? A 2nd question: if there is a 1st/2nd year player who is equal to a senior; but he has a better upside. The senior has been a good teammate, but unfortunately he was behind a better player for… Read more »

Steveg
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If guys are equal then I would start the senior one. Other than that I would always play the best player, period, and if he was hurt then the second best. When number one got better we would have to look at the difference while he was out.

TrojanRJJ
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Q#1. I agree with Allen, it depends. Should Lou Gehrig have sat when Wally Pipp healed?
Q#2. Most of the time, the younger player should play. Again, it depends on the ceiling for the younger player. You do not sit Junior Seau!

Trojan5
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Situations may look the same but in reality can be very different. Making the right decision is more art than science. Make the wrong decision and results can be disastrous. If CH would have chosen Sam rather than Max at the beginning of the season it is possible / if not probable SC would have been in the playoff. But keeping Max on the field for 3(?) games instead of Sam definitely impacted the fortunes of the Trojans that year. Not only was the win loss record impacted, Clays reputation took a major hit ; that he has never really… Read more »

LawyerJohn
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Fink is fortunate he does not play for Whittingham or probably any other coach besides Coach Helton. Still, one wonders why Fink left a program where he had a chance to play as opposed to him likely not seeing the field at SC. He did mention how this team cares about each other, so perhaps that is a good sign that the Trojans will do much better this year than in 2018.

usc50
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There is no question that Coach Helton is a man of high integrity, character, and moral principles. But sometimes I think he is too much of a nice guy.
We don’t need a nice guy as coach, but a tough guy willing to discipline and make his players become men. We need a coach that doesn’t play favorites and plays the best players possible.
I think the addition of Harrell and Drevno should do a lot to help the offense.

Steveg
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I would have to believe that Fink had the facts of life explained to him when he came out of the transfer portal. I am sure he knows his is a steep uphill battle, but he has a HC that stood behind him. That is a great example to the players on the roster and to incoming future players. Not that Whittingham was wrong in his feelings about it, but that whole thing shows the difference in the two coaches. Helton is a softy for sure, but there are times when grace comes into play, and I think with Fink… Read more »