Tuesday, July 23, 2024

USC’s Quinten Joyner has dominated his touches. His next challenge? Shyness

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LOS ANGELES — Before his first appearance in front of the dreaded USC practice field media backdrop, freshman running back Quinten Joyner waited off to the side, quietly consulting Braylan Shelby for advice.

Shelby, himself, was a freshman and had spoken to the media all of one time in his USC career. But he was there waiting after Wednesday’s practice to take questions, too, and so he suddenly became a 6-foot-5, 245-pound confidant. Did they tell you what to say? Shelby asked a visibly nervous Joyner.

“Just talk about the team,” Shelby told him, offering some words of encouragement.

About a half hour later, when told via phone call of the observed exchange, Joyner’s father Quincy cackled.

“That sounds just like him,” Quincy said, in between bouts of laughter. “That’s what he does. He’s a smart kid, but it just seems like he doesn’t want to mess up or anything.”

And indeed, in Joyner’s first availability, the young running back approached questions as if they were trying to tackle him. Pausing, scrunching his face, setting sentences down and picking them back up. Gulping a couple of times.

“I don’t know,” Joyner told reporters when asked what made him hard to bring down. “The defensive players take me down all the time in practice. Y’all will have to tell me.”

This, forever, has been the first thing to know about Joyner, father Quincy said: the kid is shy. Nonchalant. Been that way since Little League and youth Friday Night Lights down in Manor, Texas, where folks always laughed at his lack of reaction after touchdowns. Been that way through USC, where Quincy said his biggest challenge is simply opening up to coaches in a new environment.

“He’s still me and my wife’s baby,” Quincy said.

In junior high, Joyner’s team wanted him to play quarterback, Quincy said. Didn’t happen. Couldn’t happen: you need to be vocal to be a quarterback. Younger brother Quintaelyn Joyner took that mantle, and Joyner shifted to running back.

It was a pretty good decision for his future at USC, where off-the-field shyness has proved no match for Joyner’s physicality and quickness. He’s racked up the second-most rushing yards on the team (113) through three games of garbage time, scoring his first touchdown against Nevada with a next-level burst.

“Quinten’s gonna be really good,” receiver Mario Williams said after the Nevada game. “He’s very physical. Explosive.”

That physicality – a wiry 205 pounds, with strong thighs and hamstrings – came from ruthless training with Quincy ever since Joyner was little. At four years old, his father had him doing drills pulling a 30-pound sled 100 yards. At 5 years old, he was jumping for 100 yards with a medicine ball.

Why, pray tell, did Quincy push him that hard?

“’Cause he was one year old, and he always had a ball in his hand,” Quincy said.

And indeed, Joyner grew up playing football – and also baseball and basketball and running track (to make no mention of fishing, where Quincy said he caught a 42-inch shark while deep-sea fishing at 10 years old). When Joyner hit high school, his dad realized he’d messed up. The kid didn’t want to give anything up.

So for two years at Manor, it was football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball and track in the spring.

“He was interested,” Quincy remembered of his young son, “in every ball he got.”

After choosing football led to USC, adjusting to a complex Lincoln Riley offense he called “trouble at first,” Joyner’s gotten the ball an unexpected number of times. Backing up transfer MarShawn Lloyd and returner Austin Jones, there was never a plan for Joyner to redshirt, Quincy said, but both father and son were surprised by this.

“They told me everything that I could be,” Joyner said Wednesday of his running back room, “and I just trusted in them.”

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