Clay Helton uses hands-on approach to Daniel Imatorbhebhe’s injury recovery

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC head coach Clay Helton is working one-on-one with tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, as the player eases back from a hip injury.

College football head coaches are busy men. They have to manage a staff of assistants and keep their eye on more than 100 young football players through 18 practices of fall camp as they grind through preparations for the coming football season.

So it stands out when USC head coach Clay Helton takes time out of his day to work extensively with an individual player.

That’s what Helton did on Wednesday and Thursday during the final week of the Trojans camp practices, tossing a ball with injured tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe as he works to get back from a hip flexor injury.

Imatorbhebhe lines up. Helton calls the snap. Imatorbhebhe runs his route. Helton throws a pass. Imatorbhebehe catches it. Rinse and repeat.

It’s rare one-on-one work between head coach and tight end and it’s just another sign of Helton’s hands-on approach to coaching.

“As a head coach I’m sure you have more important things to do than throwing to me,” Imatorbhebhe said, but Helton insisted that it was a something he wanted to do.

“It definitely means a lot to me that he would take time out of what he’s doing to help me out.”

Imatorbhebhe has missed most of fall camp with the hip injury, which he re-aggravated during USC’s player-run practices this summer. His ability to run at full speed is hampered by the problem. So while his teammates have gone through the grind of camp, it’s been three weeks of rehab multiple times a day and easing back into action by running on the sidelines with trainers for the tight end.

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The good news is, he is on track to return by the start of USC’s mock game week in preparation for the season opener against Western Michigan on September 2.

Helton has seen the progress up close and personal.

“You’ve seen him gain a little bit more confidence” Helton said. “He’s sticking his foot in the ground. His speed is increasing by the day. He’s really close.”

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If that game against Western Michigan was this week, Imatorbhebhe said he thinks he would play, having full confidence in USC’s training staff to have him ready.

Still, for Helton and company, there is no rush.

“He’s such a valuable member of our offense and such a weapon that we want to make absolutely sure he’s 100 percent,” Helton said.

In the meantime, Helton and Imatorbhebhe will continue to play catch. Though the result could be another injury, not the player, but to the head coach’s throwing arm.

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“I won’t be able to raise it tomorrow,” Helton chuckled. “It was sore today after yesterday, it’ll be even more sore tomorrow.”