Utah safety Brandon McKinney has waited his entire life for this opportunity.
McKinney, a Washington transfer and native of Orange, California, has always wanted to play at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“This will be the first time,” he said. “I’ve played at the Rose Bowl twice, but not the Coliseum.”
McKinney remembers watching USC stars like Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett play at the Coliseum, and he knows all about the dynasty former coach Pete Carroll established with the Trojans in the early 2000s.
Since fall camp, McKinney has been trying to obtain extra tickets from his teammates for his family to attend this week’s game. He expects 12 to 15 family members to be at the Coliseum, wearing No. 28 jerseys in his honor.
“It will be good to see,” he said.
But as the Utes visit the Trojans Saturday (6 p.m., MDT, Fox) at that venerable venue, McKinney is just hoping he’ll be able to play. He suffered a leg injury in Utah’s 24-13 win over Washington State on Sept. 25. The subsequent bye week helped as far as giving him more time to heal.
“I’m feeling better,” he said. “I’m doing treatment like crazy. I really want to play in this game. I’ve got to do whatever I can to get out there.”
“Our hearts go out to Aaron’s family. Everybody’s spirits are up. Everybody’s back in practice mode,” McKinney said. “We’re just preparing for USC. We’ll always remember Aaron with anything we do — both him and Ty Jordan.”
History hasn’t been kind to the Utes when it comes to playing USC on the road. Utah’s last win over the Trojans in Los Angeles was in 1916 — 105 years ago — when it won 27-12. That was seven years before the Coliseum was constructed.
“Somebody told me it’s been over 100 years. That’s history right there,” said quarterback Cam Rising, who’s from Ventura, California. “This week, we have a lot of things that we need to play for — for Aaron, and we’ve got history on the line that we can accomplish right here as a team. We’ve got to do everything right this week to make sure we can do that.”
Rising made his first career start last year at home against USC, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early in the second quarter in a game the Trojans won, 31-17. Now, Rising’s third career start will come against the Trojans.
“You look back at last year, the way that game went, I definitely want to make right for that game and make sure we’re hitting the ground rolling once we get to kickoff,” he said, adding that playing football again will help him and his teammates heal.
“We’ve been focusing on USC,” he said. “Football has always been my peace. I’m sure for a number of players on this team, it’s the same. Just making sure that we’re focused on going down to the Coliseum and getting it done.”
Utah center Nick Ford, who’s from San Pedro, California, has also been looking forward to this showdown at the Coliseum.
“It’s fun. I’ve been playing there since high school. It’s like 10 or 15 minutes down the street from me,” he said. “I’m really familiar with the stadium and the campus and everything. It will be fun to go down there. I’ve got a bunch of people that will come out to support me. I’ve got a bunch of Utah fans coming to support the team. It will be cool. It’s a fun time.”
Growing up, Ford said, he was a fan of UCLA, not USC.
“I’m a nerd. Everyone in my town loved USC and I was an outcast because I liked medicine. They called me a pretty boy because of that. Whatever,” he said, “I used to be a Bruin fan. Still am. I like the Bruins, I like the team. But Utah’s my place. I love this place a little bit more.”
Freshman cornerback Clark Phillips III is from Lakewood, California.
“I’m just excited to take on this challenge. I’m going home,” he said. “I have a lot of my family there. I’m excited to take on this challenge.”
Phillips explained that people in Southern California usually take sides between two schools.
“There’s USC and UCLA. You’ve got to kind of choose one. You can’t like them both,” he said. “I won’t say which one I love or hate, but we’re playing them this weekend so I gotta hate them.”
Given all that this team has been through the past 10-plus days, a victory over the Trojans would mean a lot.
“It would be awesome and it would be emotional,” Phillips said. “We have a lot going on. Right now, that’s what we’re focusing on. We really need this win.”
For McKinney, this week is a homecoming of sorts and he wants to savor this chance to play at the Coliseum.
“It’s always good to go back to Cali, for sure. Being from California and always wanting to play at the Coliseum, that’s one of the stadiums I always wanted to play at growing up,” he said. “Watching Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, all those good USC players that I looked up to. It’s a good venue to be at. I’m excited to be there and play in it. It’s going to be a good game for sure.”
As a kid, McKinney cheered for the Trojans.
“Growing up, for sure I was a USC fan. I remember watching Reggie Bush winning the Heisman, being dominant,” he said. “The majority of the Southern California guys were. Those were good teams with Pete Carroll. A lot of respect for that program.”
McKinney has thought about what it will feel like to stand on the turf at the Coliseum and soak in the moment.
“I’m going to look around,” he said. “But once football starts, I’m locked in.”
McKinney, and his teammates, particularly those that hail from the Los Angeles area, desperately want to be part of the first Utah team to beat USC at the Coliseum, and the first team to defeat the Trojans in L.A. in more than a century.