On Saturday, September 18, when the number one ranked USC Trojans (2-0) march into LaVell Edwards Stadium to face the BYU Cougars (1-1), don't be ashamed when your enthusiasm is completely drowned out by a certain fashionably choreographed section in the BYU stands. Chances are, they simply have more invested in the game.
To most people sitting in the stadium or watching the game on TV, the Trojans and Cougars will be represented by a group of coaches, some peppy cheerleaders and a team of players. However, to the Watkins family and their friends, only two people on that field will matter, as Todd Watkins in his Cougar blue stands opposite older brother Travis, decked out in the cardinal and gold of the University of Southern California Trojans.
"We had ‘Watkins boys' T-shirts made up for this game," said Travis and Todd's father, Don Watkins. Todd has been the Cougar's number one threat at wide receiver, while Travis has filled in admirably on the Trojan offensive line. "It's an unbelievable feeling," Watkins said. "We never imagined we'd have two boys playing Division I football."
It almost didn't happen though. Neither Travis nor Todd was allowed to play organized football until their freshman year in high school.
"My mom wouldn't sign the permission slip to let me play," Todd said, "I had to wait until I got older because she didn't want me to get hurt." Travis has a different reason. "The league wouldn't let me play," Travis said, "I was always too big."
Their love for sports won out though.
"Both boys played soccer and baseball in lieu of football, and in the end acquired athletic skills that enhanced their ability to play on the football field," Mr. Watkins said. "Travis was able to develop a lot of speed for a big guy by playing other sports."
Meanwhile, Todd's soccer skills may have opened the door to his football future as a coach spotted him chipping field goals with ease and welcomed him to the team.
Once Todd and Travis were let loose on the football field, it was only a matter of time before they ended up here, on a national stage. "I knew I wanted to go to college on the west coast, and I had four offers coming out of high school. USC was the best of the four," Travis said, when questioned about his decision to attend USC. He admits, however, that things could have turned out a lot differently had a few changes not been made since his freshman year.
"(My freshman year) it was pretty sad," he said. "Nobody cared about winning or losing. Nobody cared about the games."
The 180 degree turnaround for the USC football program was completed last year when USC claimed its portion of the National Championship and Travis was able to appreciate it that much more because of the rough beginning. He acknowledges, understatedly, that has been his best moment as a Trojan.
"It can't get much better than that," he said. They talk a few times a week, after practices mostly, using the limited amount of time they have before getting to bed. But the way they talk about each other is where you can see the bonds of brotherhood.
"He hasn't surprised me at all this year," Travis said of his younger brother. "I always knew he could perform like this. He just needed a quarterback that could hit him in stride and let him make big plays."
Todd, a JC transfer from Grossmont College in San Diego, praised both Travis as well as the Trojan program.
"I've been around the program for a few years with Travis and it's just amazing, the whole tradition and seeing them grow and return to national prominence like that," he said. Adding, "I've learned a lot from Travis because he's been through it. He let me know that I should go to a strong football program that gives me an opportunity to make a difference."
Getting ready for Saturday's game, both Travis and Todd know there's something more important happening than a game between brothers. Travis understands that it's a team sport. "BYU is just another game for our team. It might seem more important if we (Todd and I) were playing at the same time on opposite sides of the ball. But overall it's just another game."
Todd however, had a different take. "When I made the decision to come to BYU, one of the things I looked at was the schedule because I wanted the chance to play against USC. Beating the number one team in the nation would be special because, coming from and playing in a non-BCS conference, this is realistically the closest we'll get to a national championship game."
While many experts are predicting a lopsided Trojan victory in this game, Todd and Travis play important roles in the two aspects of the game that some prognosticators feel could help the Cougars to an upset of the Trojans. Todd is the catalyst of a dynamic BYU offense led by the play of its wide receivers.
"We feel that we've got some real good receivers this year. We've got playmakers who can make big time plays," he said. "If we can connect a few times and get into the endzone, we'll put some pressure on the USC offense."
Meanwhile, Travis will serve on the Trojan offensive line, a line that was depleted by graduation and suspension over the summer and one that many people thought would be the Achilles' heel of this Trojan football team. However, after taking the game against Virginia Tech see where they stood as a unit, the game against Colorado State proved just how far this line has come.
"I never saw us as a weakness," Travis said. "Everyone outside the team was talking about it before the season and people started buying into it. We showed in the CSU game that we handled the game well. As the game went on, the offensive production never slowed. We kept lighting up the scoreboard."
When the gun sounded against Colorado State, the team's 322 rushing yards outweighed some of the team's offensive linemen – a pretty productive day on the ground.
Travis then shied away from giving a prediction about the game. "I'm no good at that stuff. I didn't think we'd blow out Colorado State the way we did. Let's just play the game and we'll see what happens."
Todd said that there could be a few big plays in store for the BYU receivers if they were left matched up one-on-one against the Trojan defensive backs. As good as the Trojan defensive backfield is, 115 yards on five catches in the season's first game against Notre Dame is tough to ignore. Like his brother, Todd also refused to play the part of fortuneteller and deliver a verdict on the game.
Dad, on the other hand, was more than willing to offer the final judgment on anything involving his two sons.
"Obviously USC is favored according to the newspaper and everyone else, "he began. Then he stopped, as if to make the last part perfect. He started again and you could hear the pride spilling out in his words, "but it's a win-win situation for the family because at the end of the game, it'll be the Watkins boys out there on the field… my champions."