For the 2016 USC football team, playing in the Rose Bowl is the culmination of a great season. For Kenechi Udeze and Keary Colbert, it’s a homecoming to the site of past glory.
Despite all of the love the 2005 Orange Bowl gets as the peak of the Pete Carroll era, the 28-14 triumph over Michigan a year prior in the Rose Bowl was the heart and soul of USC’s dominant run.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that a program starving to get back to such heights needed two of the 2004 game’s biggest stars on the coaching staff to get there.
Defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze had the game of his life in the Rose Bowl, sacking John Navarre three times and forcing a fumble.
Offensive admin assistant Keary Colbert put in the most productive day as a Trojan, with 149 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
But you won’t find either still basking in the afterglow of one of the greatest defensive performances in USC history, or a highlight-laden career-defining afternoon.
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For them, the Rose Bowl was bigger then, and bigger now.
“I don’t think he wants to overwhelm us with stories from him,” lineman Stevie Tu’ikolovatu said of Udeze. “He wants us to experience it for ourselves.”
Experience is two-fold. Going through the week of Rose Bowl fanfare, the young coaches carve out their own new memories, with big picture nostalgia soaked in through the eyes of their players.
“As a coach, it’s almost as rewarding,” Colbert said. “It’s a special deal to be a part of, and see these guys get to experience some of the things that the teams I was on experienced. I’m excited for them.”
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What’s the biggest change from the Rose Bowl as a coach versus being a player?
“It’s a lot more preparation,” Udeze said. “Getting detailed into what [Penn State is] going to throw at us and what they’ve been consistent in doing.”
Losing sleep over a team loaded with Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley is never fun, but knowing firsthand what’s at stake in the Rose Bowl makes it easier. And it’s a part of the Trojan coaches teaching through the will of their past experiences, rather than dwelling on them.
Though sometimes, they inadvertently set benchmarks.
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Thursday night at the Lawry’s Beef Bowl, a highlight reel of Rose Bowl moments included Colbert’s signature play from 2004. Players took note.
“When he caught that one-handed catch against Michigan, that’s something [showing us] to win by any means,” receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said.
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Whether it’s by way of a landmark play or not, USC will be more than pleased with just coming out on top January 2. That’s the power of a Rose Bowl victory, and it’s why being a coach during these times is fulfilling.
“I’m looking forward to seeing these guys play, and to have those lasting memories,” Colbert said. “These will be the things they’ll think about forever.”