USC head coach Clay Helton was named the FWAA’s Co-First Year Coach of the Year while quarterback Sam Darnold earned Freshman All-American honors.
The accolades keep rolling in for USC football’s Clay Helton and Sam Darnold after their impressive Rose Bowl victory last week over Penn State.
The Football Writers Association of America voted Helton as their Co-First Year Coach of the Year along with Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente.
The Trojan head coach started off his tenure on shaky ground, having lost two games right off the bat after being named the permanent head coach ahead of the Pac-12 Championship Game in 2015.
Going into the 2016 season, Helton had a huge task in front of him. On the one hand, his USC squad was still considered one of the most talented in the nation, prompting media in the Pac-12 to vote the Trojans as the second-favorites to win the Pac-12 title.
On the other hand, USC faced a daunting early season schedule, including a neutral site contest with defending national champion Alabama and road trips to Stanford and Utah in the first month. All the while, the Trojans would be breaking in new offensive and defensive coordinators.
As it turned out, the schedule difficulties won out and the Trojans dropped three of their first four games while calls mounted for new athletic director Lynn Swann to wipe the slate clean and fire Helton.
Instead, Helton and the men of Troy fought on, winning nine-straight games to end the season, including an upset win over Washington, as the defense clicked and a quarterback change to Darnold in Week 4 sparked the offense.
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Though Helton faced waves of criticism early in the season, his persistence and insistence in “trusting the process” paid off. The turnaround culminated in a whirlwind game against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl, with the Trojans erasing a 15-point deficit and winning on a walk-off field goal.
The FWAA also released their Freshman All-American team on Monday with Darnold headlining at quarterback.
The San Clemente-product is USC’s second Freshman All-American quarterback in history, following Todd Marinovich in 1989.
USC did not have any FWAA Freshman All-American selections last year, so Darnold is the first since Toa Lobendahn and Adoree’ Jackson made the squad in 2014.