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Keith throwing to Juju Smith-Schuster

Story by Christoper Cason 

The difference between what separates good and great is often analyzed through the scope of talent and athleticism. No matter the field of play, once you’re in between those lines, there is not a shortage on any one of those elements.

The answer is simple, at least to USC Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, Keith Belton, who has seen enough during his playing coaching career to be very knowledgeable on the matter.


It never takes long for Belton to assess the traits of an athlete to know who’s got it and who’s going to need to need some extra work. From what time they rise in the morning to their body language when they speak to how they interact with those around them and how dedicated they are to getting better. These foundational components are ingrained at an early age through repetition that form the habits needed to reach and exceed potential.

Belton started out as the running backs coach at Division II Johnson C. Smith University. During his experience there, he found he enjoyed helping build the person more so than the player. He went the direction of strength and conditioning because the position is one of the most important to the athlete as both someone who not only has their best interest in mind abut also one they can confide in and be completely comfortable with.

His journey took him to Wake Forest, Baylor, Washington, USC, UNLV and back to USC. During his first stint for the Trojans, he met a 17-year-old kid from Long Beach, CA named JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The kid-like charisma and Fortnite dance moves are what makes him a fan favorite. While he is still a big kid, Belton knows first hand of just how different his approach is when it’s time to get to business.

“He loves to have fun, tell jokes,” he says. “But from the very first day of working, once it was time to go to work, that kid has a switch.”

A day before reporting to Steelers minicamp, Smith-Schuster informed Belton that he wanted to workout the morning before he departed at 5:00 a.m. Belton obliged and arrived to USC the following morning at 4:30 a.m. to see the receiver going through stretches, preparing for their workout. Not that he was completely caught by surprise but this was now a pro who had just come off a rookie season in which he led all rookies with 917 receiving years and seven touchdowns.

“I’ve had some guys who have had some success but when they say 6 am, they’re getting there at 6:30 or 7,” Belton says. “Next thing you know, it’s their third or fourth year in the league and guess what? They’re being shopped or looking for work. Not because they’re not talented but like I’ve always been told, how you do anything is how you do everything.”

With any athlete Belton works with, the goal is always to maximize strengths and strengthen weaknesses in the athlete. For the person, what he’s instilling is so much more than that.

“It has nothing to do with weights and everything to do with what you’re going to use for the rest of your life,” he says. “Showing up on time, being disciplined, learning how to communicate and be a great teammate. When these weights are done, those cleats don’t fit no more and no one is throwing you the ball, these are the qualities you’re going to have to have to maintain a career, a great marriage and raise your kids. We’re just using weights and sports to teach you these things.

“The ones who listen, they win,” he says. “The ones who don’t, you read about them.”

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