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BYU football players, from SoCal and everywhere else, relishing chance to play USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Plenty have Los Angeles ties, including star running back Tyler Allgeier, star defender Uriah Leiataua and assistant coach Jernaro Gilford.

Mascot Tommy Trojan on Traveler, as the University of Utah plays USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first ever PAC-12 game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
Mascot Tommy Trojan on Traveler, as the University of Utah plays USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the first ever PAC-12 game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
Tom Smart, Deseret News

Gunner Romney didn’t grow up in Southern California, but this week BYU’s junior receiver feels like he did.

All anybody can talk about around the BYU football facilities is their excitement to face the USC Trojans at the famed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN), Romney said Tuesday night after practice.

“They have said that every kid that grows up in Southern California, it is their dream to play in the Coliseum, whether it is for USC or against USC,” Romney said. “That added motivation is leaking into everybody.”

When the No. 13 Cougars meet the 4-6 Trojans at the 78,467-seat venue that has hosted two Super Bowls, a World Series, visits from the Pope, hundreds of high-profile pro and college football games, and Summer Olympics twice (another is coming in 2028), it will mark BYU’s first visit since a 35-18 loss on Sept. 6, 2003.

“Everybody wants to go and beat them on their own field,” said Romney, who said Tuesday that he hasn’t decided yet whether this will be his final season in Provo. “The Coliseum is a historic college football stadium and USC is a good football team historically. This game, we don’t need extra motivation. Everybody is ready to go play.”

The Cougars (9-2) are six-point favorites, remarkable considering that USC is loaded with four-and five-star recruits and BYU, well, isn’t. Former walk-ons, such as leading rusher Tyler Allgeier, dot the Cougars’ lineup.

“USC, they probably didn’t give any of us here at BYU the time of day (in recruiting),” said Allgeier, who is from Fontana, California, and is tied for second in the country in rushing touchdowns, with 18, and No. 5 in rushing yards per game, 118.0.

Of course, USC’s traditions at the Coliseum are familiar to everyone with any interest at all in college football — “Traveler” the white stallion prancing around and circling the field to a rousing rendition of “Conquest,” the famous USC Song Girls in their white sweaters, the Victory Bell, the “Fight On!” chants and fight song, written in 1922, the “Spirit of Troy” marching band, “Tommy Trojan,” the two-finger “V for Victory” hand gestures, and many more.

“When you think of college football stadiums and the best ones to play in, this one stands out,” said BYU linebacker Max Tooley. “The Coliseum is one of those historically awesome places to play. That’s what I have heard, and I am so excited to get in there and play for my first time there.”

None of the Cougars have never played in the Coliseum, built in 1921-23 as a memorial to Los Angeles-area veterans who served in World War I, but several coaches on the staff have coached there, including head coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick when they were part of Kyle Whittingham’s staff at Utah.

“I want them to embrace the setting, and embrace the opportunity to play in that stadium,” Sitake said, noting that he expects “thousands and thousands” of BYU fans to be there to support the nationally ranked Cougars. “They will look around and they will see a lot of blue, and they will see all the wonderful things and will remember all the wonderful athletes and the great talent that has been on that field.

“They can add this to their list of where they got to play when they were at BYU, and that is going to be a lot of fun,” Sitake continued. “The message is to embrace the moment and have fun with it.”

Roderick said he told the offensive players about the Coliseum on Monday, telling them to savor every moment, but also realize that USC is much, much better than its 4-6 record suggests. The Trojans lost 62-33 to UCLA last weekend.

“It is a great college football environment,” Roderick said. “First of all, the field itself is an awesome playing surface, just a fast track, with beautiful grass. I don’t know what the forecast is, but usually when you are playing in Southern California you are playing in good weather on a nice surface, and then you are playing in a great stadium. It is one of the historic buildings in college football.

“When you come out of that tunnel, you know there is a lot of history in that place and it is an exciting opportunity,” Roderick continued. “But you don’t want to make too much of it. We have played in a lot of big games in the time I’ve been here. … I don’t think this is anything to get freaked out about. I just talked about the opportunity and what a fun place it is to play.”

Adding even more intrigue is the fact that both starting quarterbacks are products of Utah high schools — USC’s Jaxson Dart played for Roy and Corner Canyon, while BYU’s Jaren Hall prepped at Maple Mountain in south Utah County.

“Absolutely, for sure, 100%,” Hall said Monday when he was asked if he is looking forward to playing on the big stage.

“I mean, I grew up watching Reggie Bush, one of my favorite players to watch. … I saw the crowd and the stadium and followed (coach) Pete Carroll to Seattle where Russell Wilson plays.”

Two members of BYU’s traveling contingent — defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua and cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford, grew up within 10 miles of the Coliseum.

Leiataua said he grew up a UCLA fan because his brothers played for the Bruins, but playing at the Coliseum will be special for him.

“That’s one thing I am really looking forward to, is to play there against them, especially in front of family and people from my hometown,” he said.

Gilford, who played at nearby Westchester High, said he will probably have 100 friends and family members at the game.

“My mom still lives in the same house, which is not even 10 miles from the stadium,” he said, noting that he’s good friends with USC receivers coach Keary Colbert and several members of the athletic department administration.

Gilford said interim USC coach Donte Williams, a good friend, will have them ready, and will warn USC players and fans that BYU is known for bringing a lot of people to games anywhere in the country.

“Donte will put it out there that we travel well,” he said. “He will put the word out to get them a nice size crowd. And they deserve it. At end of the day, it is USC, even though they have been going through some things. But Cougar Nation will absolutely show up and show out.”

Playing in the Coliseum demands nothing less.