For a lot of players on ASU’s roster, a trip to Los Angeles will not only trigger a memory from two years ago, but it will be a trip home.
Junior linebacker Alani Latu is a Rancho Cucamonga, California native and said ASU’s game against USC is equivalent to ASU’s game against Arizona at the end of the season in terms of importance and hype for him.
“Especially for us California kids, we play with a huge chip on our shoulder going back home and playing in front of family and it’s a pretty big game and I’m excited,” Latu said.
Latu and his brother Viliami Latu are two of ASU's key contributors who hail from the Los Angeles area, and Ami's excitement for Saturday's game is a perfect example of how much the opportunity to play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum means to him.
Earlier this week, Ami Latu was sidelined during practice with a knee injury, and forced to walk through warmups alongside fellow defensive player, junior Christian Sam. By Thursday, though, Latu was back jogging through warmups, testing his knee and running with a large brace which suggests he'll give it a go on Saturday.
After Thursday's practice, ASU head coach Todd Graham said as a senior returning to Southern California for the final time, he knows Latu is going to do everything he can to put himself in position to play. The drive and passion players like the Latu brothers exhibit for playing against USC isn't lost on their teammates, who are willing to do whatever it takes to secure a victory Saturday.
“I’m not from California or anything like that, but a lot of my teammates are so it’s a special situation for them to go back home and play at USC and a lot of these kids had the opportunity to go there and maybe decided not to or picked here over there and so we have a lot of people who are from California and hold that game very near and dear to their hearts and so do I because they are my teammates,” ASU junior running back Kalen Ballage said.
Sophomore tight end JayJay Wilson, a Valencia, California native, said it’s going to be “amazing” being able to go to the Coliseum since he grew up watching USC, especially Reggie Bush, as a kid. Wilson got a blue shirt offer from USC, but signed with ASU in February 2015.
“I am just focused on my team and I’m just focused on us,” Wilson said. “Not really worried about them (USC). I could care less about them. We are on our path to something special and we just got to believe in each other and we will be fine.”
Sophomore safety Armand Perry, a Las Vegas native, said he is looking forward to playing in one of college football's premier atmospheres at the Coliseum and will have a lot of family members attending the game.
“I always tell people it’s like an NFL-style type of atmosphere,” Perry said. “Playing against a pro-style offense I could put some really good stuff on tape. It’s not so much Air Raid, but for the safety you have to read the line keys and stuff like that, stay sound vertical and just be disciplined.”
Perhaps the most interesting sentiments regarding ASU's upcoming opponent came from sophomore defensive end Joseph Wicker. Wicker, another Southern California native, chose the Sun Devils over USC, and said ASU's 38-34 victory that featured a play later known as the "Jael Mary" in 2014 played a pivotal role in his recruitment.
"I was sitting at home actually, and it was kind of a big part of my recruitment, actually," Wicker said of ASU's win. "This is like my junior year, I'm still early in the process, I'm thinking about going to USC because I hadn't really visited yet so I didn't really know, and I was just over it after seeing that (the Jael Mary), I was just like no, no way."
Wicker's decision to sign with the Sun Devils famously had Graham jumping for joy after a late night phone call from the prospect confirmed his intentions to play for ASU. Since arriving in Tempe, Wicker has made a significant impact on the defensive line, playing at Devil backer and at end, where he'll likely start against the Trojans in his first collegiate game at the Coliseum.
"It's like just going home, being at home, positive vibes, great intentions to just get after it," Wicker said.