Former USC Scott Felix shares how Clay Helton won over the players at the Las Vegas Bowl and what the Trojan linebackers need to show more of in 2020.
After making it through the doldrums of the college football offseason, we have reached that time of year where eyes shift towards the next season, as new coaches are introduced to the fanbase, predictions are made for each conference, and the all-important jersey number changes are announced to the public along with a spring roster.
Even as the sports world shuts down due to coronavirus, this period is also a time to take inventory of what a program has done to improve itself since the end of the last season and to listen to the perspectives of a variety of sources on the matter.
Recently, I had a chance to discuss a multitude of topics with Scott Felix (@scottstarrfelix on Twitter), a former USC linebacker and host of “The Player’s Lounge” on Bleav Podcast Network, including his experience playing for Clay Helton, the Trojans’ offseason moves, his transition into professional life after football, and his new poetry book, Mediocre Sunflower.
During his four-season career, Felix played for four different head coaches at USC, which is where we began our conversation.
Question: What was it like to transition through multiple head coaches during your playing career?
Felix: I mean, it was pretty funny. The first time that I actually got the sense of what it was like to get a coaching change so suddenly was my first or second week on campus. Joe Barry, the linebacker coach at the time, he pulled us into the meeting room, and he told us that he was taking a position with the Chargers, and I remember a few players fell out of their seats. It was just a sign of things to come, I guess, looking back on it.
But it was tough man, it was really unexpected and you know before too long, unfortunately, we became used to that thing. Even once Coach O got dismissed, which was a huge loss obviously and people still talk about that, we just were kind of numb to it. We never really had a stable guy in the program.
Question: Can you give everyone a sense of why Clay Helton is someone that players love and why he’s someone that players believe in?
Felix: There’s a lot of examples that I can remember off the top my head but one that really sticks out to me is when we went to the Vegas Bowl. That was the week after Coach O was told that he wasn’t going to be the head coach and it was Coach Helton’s first time being the interim coach. And I remember that whole time that it’s the Vegas Bowl where nobody really wants to be but luckily is a good spot.
So we’re having a good time and celebrating our season but I remember up to where kickoff was about to happen and Coach Helton, who didn’t ever speak to the team like that, stepped up in front of the whole team and gave one of the most memorable speeches that I can remember. [He] just talked about the journey of what we’d been through that season.
One of the biggest things is that he was able to relate to everybody on such a human level and not necessarily just a coach level. It’s very similar to how Coach O is but they had their own styles. Coach Helton shows you that he really cares about you, and to have that trust and love from somebody when you hadn’t had that to hold onto for a whole season, it really set the tempo from there on that Coach Helton was a guy that we could trust.
I think that’s one of the biggest things is that it’s hard to believe that somebody has your best interest, especially at that young age, and I think that a lot of people know that like Coach Helton is that guy when it comes to that.
Question: How do you feel about the moves that athletic director Mike Bohn and Helton have made this offseason?
Felix: I don’t know, man.
I don’t know Mike Bohn, so I can’t really say too much right now. I’m sure he’s a great, great guy and the people that I’ve known that have talked to him have said the same thing. But I was talking to one of my friends about this who played on the team when I was at SC, and one of the things that we said at the end of the season was that it was going to be hard for us to get a high profile name because of how shaky the foundation was.
And I was bummed out when I found out that Joe Barry declined the D coordinator position because I think Joe Barry would be fantastic hire for the program right now. But I think that they’re doing what they can, and I think that for people that have a lot of animosity towards Coach Helton because they wanted a different coach this year, what you have to do is change the whole staff and that’s what he’s doing. He’s doing the right things from what he can control at this point, so I would say that he’s doing well.
Question: Do you think that increased support around the head coach is a direct response to some of the struggles USC has had over the last couple years?
Felix: Yeah and it’s even more apparent now because back in the day, when my class was coming in and classes after me, a lot of the time USC was in the top five recruiting class in the country year in and year out. Recently that hasn’t been happening, especially last season.
I would say the gap in recruiting, what it used to be, is no longer there so you’re getting kids at Oregon now who played [high school football] in California that 10 years ago would have been a lock to go to USC. So now we don’t have that pure talent just rely on and we need to get with the times by getting good coaching and good schemes to put ourselves in a position to succeed.
Question: You played linebacker at USC and one of the problem areas for the defense last season was at that spot. It looked like they struggled to execute their responsibilities, especially against the run. What would you like to see from USC’s linebackers in terms of developing into impact players within the defense?
Felix: I think one of the biggest things that I saw last year that I was really bummed about was that the energy wasn’t really there. Not that the guys didn’t care, because I know that that’s completely false, but it didn’t look like they had something to prove. The linebackers gotta be the guys to set the tempo.
Physically, you have to do your duties as a linebacker but if your buddy makes a play at the safety position, you have to run over there as a leader on the defense and celebrate with him to make him feel that love and build that energy on the defense. That’s one of the really cool things about defense is that you’re able to play with such high energy and can celebrate it.
Everybody’s talented on this level but how bad do you want it and how much are you willing to really set that tempo and, and just cultivate that energy? So I would like to see them step up be better leaders and, and just really set that tone on the defense. To explode with energy.
Question: After your appeal to play in the 2016 football season was denied by the NCAA, can you explain what that transition was like as you left football and chose to pursue writing, directing, and podcasting?
Felix: That was definitely a tough time but one of the craziest feelings was that when I found out that the appeal didn’t go through, in certain sense, I felt a lot of relief. I felt like I was able to get a head start on what I really wanted to be doing for quite a few years up to that point. It was bittersweet obviously and I never wanted something like that to happen but it’s just weird how things work out. You look back on it and realize that things happen for a reason and it allowed me to take a step back from football sooner than later.
It gave me an opportunity to explore who I was because the last eight years up to that point were so fast and so repetitive, so that was the first time in spring that I didn’t have any lifting or football to go to. I was like, all right, well, I might as well jump into that full experience.
When I did, I felt amazing because I felt like I discovered more parts of myself as a person. [I could] apply myself to things I wanted to do which was being in storytelling. So, it was a bizarre time, definitely, but looking back on it, it was very peaceful and transcendent in a way to where I was able to see things from a different perspective.
Question: You recently released your new book Mediocre Sunflower. Could you take a minute to discuss what made you endeavor to write a book and then discuss what your book is about?
Felix: Last March in 2019, I was approached by a writer named Christopher Poindexter who has written many poetry books and he told me that he had a publisher looking to publish somebody. He recommended me so it just presented itself. I always liked writing and I was diving into poetry a little more, posting on my social media stuff here and there, but never did I imagine I’d be writing a book that soon.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just figured it out as I went. I didn’t want to set a tone on what the book would be about because I wanted to see what happened with how I put it together in terms of the order of the poems. I had to write a lot more over the course of like that nine months but once I finished the writing and put it all together, I was able to sit back and leave a lot of it to the interpretation of the reader. I didn’t want to throw the answer in anybody’s face. I think it explores the peeling back of layers as a young man in this day and age.
Another theme is exploring different areas of your life to have the deepest understanding of why things happen and how they happen to form your own sense as a person and as an adult. I don’t really want to say what it’s about, but it explores being able to deconstruct yourself from an adult to a child.
I will say the way that I wrote it to be interpretational. I don’t tell people what it means to me, and I left it to where you’re not getting told exactly what the answer is when you read the book. I want people to take away their own meaning. There are different narratives and you don’t know what connects to what, so it’s on the reader to connect them. They might get a completely different experience out of it than you or I would because it’s applicable to many people’s lives.