LOS ANGELES -- A year ago, linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin were arguably the two best high school football players in Utah. Strictly as defensive players, few could compare.
But when it was came to choosing their college destinations -- there was no shortage of suitors -- neither could resist the opportunity to go to USC.
“I realized I really wanted to go out of state,” said Masina, who was ESPN’s No. 1-ranked recruit in the state. “I just wanted to get away from home.”
That meant forgoing the chance to play with his older brother, Uaea, on the team he grew up rooting for: Utah.
Gustin, the No. 2-ranked player, gave the Utes more consideration, but despite developing a close relationship with coach Kyle Whittingham through the recruiting process, he ultimately made the same decision.
“It came down to the last minute,” Gustin said. “It was close [between Utah and USC], it was definitely close.”
Both players have made an immediate impact for USC, providing depth at linebacker, but the circumstances of Saturday’s first meeting with the Utes --- with Utah ranked No. 3 and USC a loss away from a lost season -- aren’t exactly what they thought they were signing up for on signing day.
“We’ve gone through some rough patches,” Gustin said. “But I’m confident that’s all going to clear up and in the future years we’ll be on top.”
For now, that designation belongs to Utah (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12), which is the only remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12 and in complete control of the rugged Pac-12 South.
From afar, Gustin and Masina have kept tabs on Utah’s progress.
“I’ve actually been hoping they do play well so that when we do play them and hopefully beat them -- which is what we plan on doing -- it just makes us look that much better,” Gustin said. “I have a lot of friends that are fans, so it’s a little extra [excitement]. They’re a very physical team, so we have to be physical. It could be a big statement game for us, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Masina said he knows almost everyone on the Utes’ roster and has been in regular touch with several players throughout the year, but there has been no contact this week leading into Utah’s trip to Los Angeles.
“I’ll always be happy for them, but when they play us it’s a different situation,” Masina said. “Doesn’t matter if you’re No. 3 or not ranked. I’m definitely happy for them.”
Masina, who backs up Anthony Sarao at inside linebacker, ranks sixth on the Trojans with 22 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown in the season opener. Gustin is behind Scott Felix on the depth chart at rush end and is tied for second on the team with a pair of sacks.