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California Here They Come: Utah football is thrilled that Rose Bowl week is finally here

For several players on Utah’s roster from Southern California, it’s a homecoming of sorts, too.

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Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising mimics sipping tea

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) sips tea with teammates after beating the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

On the day after Christmas, the Utah football program is departing for Southern California for the gift it has worked for, and dreamed about, for years — a trip to the Rose Bowl Game.

The Pac-12 champion Utes are scheduled to arrive in Los Angeles Sunday for a week of festivities before taking on Big Ten opponent Ohio State Saturday (3 p.m., MST, ESPN) on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

For several players on Utah’s roster from Southern California, it’s a homecoming of sorts, too. 

“We’re itching to get down to Pasadena and we’re excited for it,” said quarterback Cam Rising, who hails from Ventura. “Just having fun being in California again.”

“I’m excited. I’ll have a lot of friends and family there for my last ride,” said running back T.J. Pledger, who’s from Pacoima. “It’s amazing. Just being able to play in this game is a blessing, especially with it being my last college game, being able to come back home and play a great team in Ohio State.”

Rose Bowl TV

Rose Bowl

No. 6 Ohio State (10-2)

vs. No. 11 Utah (10-3)

Jan. 1, 3 p.m. MST

Rose Bowl

Pasadena, California


Radio: ESPN 700

Utah offensive lineman Nick Ford, a San Pedro native, knows that being a part of the Rose Bowl is special. 

“You grow up in L.A. watching the Rose Bowl Parade. I’ve never been to a Rose Bowl game. I wasn’t the biggest football fan growing up. I was a nerd — video games and science stuff,” Ford said. “Still very much am. But I’ve always seen it on TV. I’ve watched it with my dad and brother and I watched the Rose Parade with my mom. It’s a big part of L.A. culture growing up. It’s going to be really cool that now I’m a part of that, the actual setting of that.

“It’s a big game for the community. It’s sold out. It’s awesome. It’s going to be a heckuva time down in Pasadena,” Ford added. “We understand it’s a big game and a big stage. You can’t get lost in that gaze because if you get lost in that gaze, you start getting dazed up and you’re going to make mistakes. We’re focused on the game.”

While the Utes are focused on the task at hand, there’s a list of festivities on the schedule leading up to the game. 

On Monday afternoon, both teams will attend an official welcome event at Disneyland Resort. On Tuesday, there will be media availability, practices, and Ohio State will participate in Lawry’s Beef Bowl. On Wednesday, there will be more media availability, more practices, and Utah will have its turn at Lawry’s Beef Bowl.

Which begs the question, what is Lawry’s Beef Bowl? 

According to Los Angeles Magazine, “Since 1956, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, the iconic chophouse on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, has invited the two NCAA football teams competing in that year’s Rose Bowl to indulge in an epic meal a few days before the big game, celebrating elite athletic accomplishments with a legendary Southern California meal: the ‘signature’ chilled spinning salad, thick-cut prime rib, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, a river of brown gravy, and apple pie á la mode (everyone manages to save room, somehow).”

The late Richard N. Frank, Lawry’s founder and Pasadena native has described the Beef Bowl as “the greatest meal in America.” 

Ford is a food connoisseur, but he said if the event turns into an eating contest, he won’t be participating. 

“I could eat, but I have a game to play. You feel me? I would crush it,” he said. “But, no, I’ve got to be quick. I can’t add 10 pounds of steak to me. I can’t do that.”

Thursday features Media Day at the Rose Bowl Stadium and a team photo for both teams, as well as the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. On Friday morning, the head coaches of both teams will hold a joint press conference.

Meanwhile, there’s a sense of nostalgia among the team since players like Pledger, Ford, wide receiver Britain Covey, linebacker Nephi Sewell, tight end Cole Fotheringham and defensive lineman Mika Tafua have all declared for the NFL Draft. All-America linebacker Devin Lloyd, from Chula Vista, is also expected to enter the draft — he’s projected as a first-round pick. Tight end Brant Kuithe has announced that he’s returning to Utah next season. 

So the Utes are relishing this final road trip together as a group. 

“We’re living in the good days right now,” Rising said. “We’ve got such a good team around us. We’re taking it day by day.”

While some players have announced they’re not returning, others’ futures are still uncertain. 

“There are a lot of guys leaving and a lot of guys staying,” Kuithe said. “You never know. We’re just trying to enjoy it.”

Some have speculated that this game might be coach Kyle Whittingham’s last as Utah’s head coach.

Asked about his future earlier in the week, Whittingham said, “I just enjoy coaching right now and I’m loving coaching this team. I just continue to plug away and we had a good recruiting class. We’re excited about that. The future is bright for this program.”

Covey is sentimental by nature and this is a sentimental time for him preparing for his final college game. 

“It’s the last time I’m going to step foot right here in this practice jersey. I love it and I’m cherishing every moment, every play, every gasser,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my teammates from 2015 and I see how much they miss it, how much they loved it.”

During the week, the Utes will be joined by thousands of their closest friends and supporters in Southern California. 

A few days before Christmas, the Utah Ticket Office reported that 32,319 tickets had been sold through its office for the 108th Rose Bowl Game. That included 1,856 tickets sold to University of Utah students. 

Apparently, a Ute-Red Wave will be descending on Pasadena. 

You don’t have to be a California resident to appreciate the pageantry of the Rose Bowl. But for a California kid like Rising, playing on this stage means everything. 

“You always want to go to that game,” he said. “You watch it each and every year. It’s usually a great game. I’m glad we get to play in it.”