The Utah connection

USC right guard John Martinez is only the third scholarship player in school history to hail from the state of Utah, quite a feat when considering how close the two states are and how many players from California sign with the Utes every year.

For example, 29 California natives are on the Utah roster at the moment. So, yes, getting Martinez, the top-ranked guard in the Class of 2009 out of Cottonwood High in Salt Lake City, to come to USC was quite a coup for the Trojans a couple years ago, and very few people in the state of Utah have forgotten about it.

And when Martinez visited a Utah practice this past spring when he was back home for a time, he said he received quite the negative reaction from players and fans on the field.

"I got a bunch of dirty looks when I went over there, for sure," Martinez said Thursday. "Just because everybody knew who I was since I played high school around there."

Now, the redshirt sophomore will be starting at right guard for the second consecutive week Saturday and matching up directly against one of his friends from home, nose tackle Star Lotulelei. He also played high school ball with starting linebacker Matt Martinez and grew up with the Kruger brothers, defensive ends Dave and Joe.

Left guard Abe Markowitz, who still hasn't been medically cleared to play against the Utes with a foot injury but plans to suit up anyway, also has a number of connections to the Utes. Hailing from Hawaii, Markowitz played against linebacker V.J. Fehoko in high school and grew up with Kahuku natives Nai Fotu and Afa Bridenstine as well, both linebackers.

The Utes take their football seriously. Martinez' four uncles who played at Utah and two more who played at BYU will be making the 10- or 11-hour road trip down to Los Angeles for the game -- but they'll be cheering not for their nephew but for the Utes.

Well, maybe a little bit for him "on the side," Martinez jokingly conceded.