Before I begin, here's a disclaimer: The purpose of this column is not to make grown men cry or turn a large number of college kids in the United States against me.
I got to attend the Trojans' football practice last week.
And interview Reggie Bush.
I got an inkling of what people would think of that when I spoke to a few of my friends.
"What!" one exclaimed. "I thought you only got to go to practice if you were, like, Britney Spears or the President!"
"I hate you," one of my guy friends said. "I can't talk to you right now." Then he hung up. I have yet to hear back from him.
Anyone and everyone who I mention the experience to waxes eloquent, using words like amazing and phenomenal.
I hate to break it to everyone, but it was anything but.
In middle school, I was in the school band and part of our program was to play at Disneyland. We got to go backstage as cast members and to see what goes on behind the scenes.
It was different than I expected, to say the least.
I saw animals from the Jungle Cruise, which I had thought were real until I was 5, when my younger sister informed me with disgust that they were fake. One of the flying Dumbos from the ride in Fantasyland was lying on its side, and I saw abandoned pieces of parades I had enjoyed years ago.
No matter how mature you are, how you mentally prepare yourself, it is just downright different to see the daily grind. One of the great things about the Trojans is the ease with which they play. They make the routing of a team look as effortless as the final score reflects, much like this past weekend against Stanford. In fact, I read somewhere the next day that the team wasn't putting forth any effort during that game. That's their style, though. So much of what they do looks completely effortless. When they finally do have to put in effort, like at Notre Dame, their fans get scared, because it's so unusual for them to have to do so.
When I walked onto the practice field, the defense was practicing to my left and the offense to my right. Above, there were cameramen on platforms, filming every possible angle.
The legends were out in full force. Pete Carroll was striding around the field, hunched over a clipboard. The chirpy bravado he shows to the media was absent; he was all business. Wherever he went, people perked up and listened. Matt Leinart was calling out the same play over and over as the team reassembled to practice it. Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin were there, directing the greats: Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, LenDale White. Brandon Ting jogged by and gave Steve Smith a good slap on the ass.
They were right there, in the flesh, getting corrected by their coaches and scrimmaging against one another. There were brief gatherings that took my breath away -- LenDale resting a hand on Matt's shoulder and talking to him, Smith shouting some encouragement to Reggie. Everyone was drenched with sweat. I might have been standing behind the cardinal-and-gold flags on the sideline, but it felt like I was right there, in on all of the action, the sweat, the successes, failures.
And when it was all over, I spoke with Reggie.
A few days earlier, I had been talking to a friend from Buffalo and casually mentioned that I was going to speak to Reggie.
"What! You're going to talk to God?!" he replied.
But the cool thing about Reggie is that you feel as though you can call him Reggie. He's a rare star in that he is both held in awe by his peers, but is very much one of them. He can be spotted around campus wearing sweatpants and carrying a backpack filled with actual books. He doesn't host star-studded, public birthday parties. People can actually say that they have a class with him that doesn't involve any type of physical activity, dancing or otherwise.
This is going to sound cheesy, but I'm going to say it anyway: He's just a regular college kid.
He said he has his frustrations with fame: "Everyone pretty much leaves me alone on campus. But just those tour groups! They tend to mob me and can get a little crazy."
And as a football player, he doesn't sound too complicated. When I asked him what his favorite nickname was, he said with a smile, "Definitely the 'President.'" He quickly added, however, that he's just one member of the team, taking part in all that being a member entails. When I asked him whether that included the pranks like LenDale's fake argument with Pete Carroll and mock suicide attempt last week, he smiled.
"Yeah, I was up for doing it myself."
Though maybe he's not as fearless as he seems on the field. He confirmed that he didn't do it himself because he wasn't too keen on climbing the heights of a building.
And then there are the people who have made a difference in his life.
When asked to describe Pete Carroll in a word, a big grin spread over his face. "Young," he said without hesitation. "He just keeps going, his energy never runs out." He looked like a kid bragging that his dad could beat up mine.
He claims to have had a great love of sports as a kid, but no favorite athlete. When I asked whom he'd like to have lunch with if he could pick any person, he thought for a bit. "Bill Belichick, the head coach of the Patriots. That guy is awesome."
I saw a different side to the Trojan football team last week. I was able to see a team, which has been put on a marble pedestal, shoved off it for a bit.
People tend to forget what the NCAA is all about. It consists of a bunch of kids, great athletes for sure, but with worries and fears all their own. As I interviewed Reggie Bush, obviously exhausted after a long day, I was able to see how that the famous No. 5 he bears must be an incredibly difficult burden at times. Looking into his eyes, I saw the worries of every other USC undergrad who lacks sleep, worries about homework, and sometimes feels just a bit out of his element in the world.
That's not to say they are lacking in spirit. At the end of practice, even as they gathered together, limping and sweaty, in the middle of the field, everyone burst into the fight song, "Fight On." Victory signs were in the air, and the guys were jumping on each other, shouting and fooling around.
Ultimately, that's really what it's all about: From the daily grind to the effortlessness of their games, these kids are having the time of their lives.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Erica Lucero, a sophomore at Southern California, is writing updates from campus this season as the Trojans attempt to win their third consecutive national championship.