LAS VEGAS — USC interim Coach Clay Helton is only a few days from Saturday's Las Vegas Bowl, when he will oversee a team on game day for the first time in his 19-year coaching career.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said Wednesday.
Fresno State Coach Tim DeRuyter knows the feeling, and he let Helton know that when the coaches greeted each other at an informal news conference after the Trojans' arrival.
"I said, 'Hey brother, I've been there," DeRuyter said.
DeRuyter, who has led Fresno State to an 11-1 record, was referring to his stint as the interim coach for Texas A&M, when he guided the Aggies to a 2011 victory over Northwestern in what is now the Texas Bowl.
DeRuyter was appointed interim coach for the bowl game after Texas A&M fired Mike Sherman at the end of the regular season. Nearly two weeks later, Fresno State hired DeRuyter, forcing him into double duty.
"I was trying to get ready for the bowl game and at the same time get the [Fresno State] coaching staff together," DeRuyter said. "At least we were Central time, so I would get done with everything, and the last couple hours of the day you could call some kids on the West Coast.
"It made for long days."
Helton does not have a head coaching job waiting for him. And new USC Coach Steve Sarkisian so far has announced that only receivers coach Tee Martin would remain on his staff.
So Helton is putting all of his energy into helping the Trojans finish their tumultuous season with 10 victories.
Helton, the son of veteran football coach Kim Helton, said the last two weeks have been a reminder about "all the things you have to do away from football" as a head coach.
"It's just not worrying about the Xs and O's anymore. It's worrying about an entire organization," he said.
Helton's parents will not be in Las Vegas to see him make his in-game debut.
"I don't think mom could take it," he said laughing. "I said, 'Hey, I'm going to buy you tickets, why don't you come out and see your son in his first head coaching experience.'
"She said, 'There's no way I can do it. ... I'm going to watch it on TV. I'd be too nervous.'
"So she's excited about it. I think she's been the one who's texted me the most on this thing."
Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, a fifth-year senior and the national leader in passing yardage, remembers when Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler was just starting to make a name for himself in Bakersfield, where both grew up and attended high school.
"Everyone told me, 'He's the next one,' " Carr said. "So I told him, 'Whatever I can do to help, just let me know.' "
Carr and Kessler are friends and have worked out together in their hometown.
"I wish him the best, a Hall of Fame career and all those things," Carr said. "Just not in this game."
USC will practice Thursday at Bishop Gorman High, where Trojans tight end Xavier Grimble played before coming to USC. ... Several players carried fifth-year senior guard John Martinez off the field on their shoulders Wednesday to mark the occasion of his final practice at Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field.