Max Browne, Sam Darnold Back to Work After USC Quarterback Battle

Quarterbacks Max Browne and Sam Darnold during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
Quarterbacks Max Browne and Sam Darnold during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

The USC football quarterback competition is over, but as the season approaches, little has changed for Max Browne and Sam Darnold.

When the Trojans returned to the practice field on Tuesday, they did so with a starting quarterback for the first time in eight months: Max Browne.

But in watching how he and backup Sam Darnold carried themselves on the field, you’d be hard pressed to separate who won and who didn’t.

“One was happy, one was disappointed,” head coach Clay Helton said of the response of his quarterbacks.

Browne’s reaction was joyful and gracious, a fulfillment of almost four years of hard work.

Darnold’s, while understandably let down, reflected the determined attitude he carried with him throughout the offseason.

“Sam said, ‘Coach I respect your decision, [and] I want to prove to you that I’m a great player,’ ” Helton relayed after practice.

“And I said, ‘Buddy, you’re going to be a great player. There’s no question in my mind.'”

The redshirt freshman may have to wait a while to make true on his promise, but doing the little things on the practice field goes a long way in moving forward and instilling a professional approach.

READ MORE: What’s the Future Hold For Sam Darnold?

Especially after a quarterback competition which went on longer than even Helton imagined it would.

“The way both kids have handled it has been phenomenal, especially the way they came out today,” Helton said.

It was visible in the way Browne commanded the offense with the undeniable confidence, a result of winning the battle and taking his place as the Trojans’ starting quarterback.

And it was visible in the way Darnold bounded around the practice field, no trace of disappointment or surrender in his body language.

The competition may be over, but he isn’t backing down, sprinting from drill to drill, almost as if to challenge to his older teammate.

Better keep up. 

“I prepare as if I’m the starter, because it takes one play for Max to go down, and I’m in there,” Darnold said. “I take the same mental focus as I did throughout fall camp, when I thought I would be starter. I’m not going to change that.”

If that mentality sounds familiar, it should.

RELATED: Ranking the 10 Best USC Quarterbacks Ever

He picked up from Browne, having seen it firsthand during the final year of the Cody Kessler era.

“It really showed me how much hard work that he put in,” Darnold said. “I think that gave me even more closure as to why he should be the starting quarterback here. He’s a great leader and he probably works the hardest on the team.”

Work. The blue-collar do-everything verb is transcendent with Browne, no matter who you speak to.

LISTEN: Depth Chart Breakdown

Having trouble? Listen on Soundcloud, iTunesGoogle Play or Stitcher.

That happens when a player is fueled by struggle –including from past quarterback battles– to keep his head on straight.

“I’ve had my fair share of falling up short, and then coming back and battling back,” Browne said. “I think is a great life lesson and will serve us well this season, [because] it’s not going to go perfect, and the ability to respond and lead these guys is huge.”

Fighting back from adversity is something Helton praised the redshirt junior for throughout fall camp, particularly after he threw three interceptions during the Trojans’ scrimmage at the Coliseum last week.

SEE ALSO: Trojans Finally Begin Preperation For Alabama

Despite the bad luck — two of the three picks were tipped by receivers into the arms of defenders — Browne came back during the two-minute drill and led the offense to a win.

It was a prime example of why Tee Martin calls Browne a “gamer”.

“He’s just one of those guys that you always look around, and something good is happening,” Martin said of Browne’s decision-making, vision and timing as a passer.

More from Reign of Troy

Now that the job is won and the monkey is off his back, the focus is on getting the most out of the offense as run by the more pure pocket passer.

“We’re tailoring things to his strengths and letting him go behind himself,” Martin said. “It’s his team.”

Despite the shift from training camp to game prep, Darnold noticed just one slight difference at practice. There were fewer reps for him.

MUST READ: Game By Game Predictions for USC in 2016

For Browne, though, it was business as usual.

He walked and talked like the starter before Saturday’s announcement. He’s walking and talking like the starter now.

“To be brutally honest, it wasn’t a totally different feeling or a totally different atmosphere,” he said. “It was like ‘Alright, next step, let’s go,’ which is probably a great thing, knowing I’m ready to go.”