LOS ANGELES -- USC’s plan all along was to redshirt Kenan Christon. That wasn’t his plan, though. When he arrived in summer, he quickly aligned himself with the veteran running backs and asked them everything he could in order to prepare himself to play this year.
The Trojans only had four scholarship players at his position, after all. He figured he needed to be ready. Christon then found himself fifth string as walk-on Quincy Jountti, who transferred to USC last fall, claimed more reps in training camp and was placed on scholarship.
It soon became apparent to Christon that he might barely play this year. He voiced as much to Vavae Malepeai, who sat out his entire first season after suffering a shoulder injury in camp.
“At one point I was down,” Christon said. “You’re going from the starting guy at your high school to being deep in the depth chart, it breaks my heart a little bit. But talking to them, they really told me, just be patient. They went through the same process that I was going through.”
Running backs coach Mike Jinks said Christon didn’t let his disappointment affect his determination. He continued working, soaking up everything “like a sponge” while remaining his natural, quiet self.
“He’s kind of similar to Markese (Stepp),” Jinks said. “I’m not going to say they’re introverts, but they’re very naturally quiet kids, they don’t say a ton. They kind of let their play speak for itself.”
The freshman’s performance versus Colorado said more about his all-around ability than his two zooming touchdowns against Arizona the week before. In his first career start, he played the majority of the game and answered every question one could have had about the diminutive back.
Christon gained 76 yards on 14 carries, which is more than Stepp or Stephen Carr have received this season; he caught two passes, including a touchdown; and he more than held his own in pass protection.
“He’s got some physicality about him,” Jinks said. “A lot of that is he’s a good football player, he’s been well coached. He understands the position. He understands where to put his body. …
“The thing I ask first and foremost is you got to know where to go. He’s a very intelligent football player. He ID’d everything perfectly the other night. Very impressed. They did pressure him, you saw it. That was kind of their deal, they came after him and he handled it. I was very, very proud of him.”
Somewhat lost in the theatrics of USC’s game-winning drive, which included a third-and-10 conversion, a long completion on second-and-19, and a 37-yard TD pass, was Christon recovering a Kedon Slovis fumble that could have clinched the win for Colorado had it come up with the ball.
Despite his 5-10, 180-pound frame, Christon proved time and time again he plays bigger than his size.
“I think the kid is a kid that can handle a bunch of touches,” Coach Clay Helton said. “He handled 16 on Friday night and didn't look tired, he looked fresh. And obviously he had some opportunities, some inside and outside zone, which we were running a bunch of in that game, and he averaged 5.5 yards a carry. The off tackle play that we ran the game before, he made some explosives.
“So I think he can run any play in our offense.”
Christon’s role only figures to increase the more he plays and the longer his running mates are sidelined. His sudden ascension was as fast as he is. But he’s never been one to celebrate his speed.
“It’s great, but I don’t ever put myself above anyone else,” he said. “I just stay where I am and I just take the most of my opportunity, whenever it comes.”
-- Adam Maya is a USC graduate and has been covering the Trojans since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJMaya.