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Monday, December 31
 
Waldrop returns home to play for title

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

PASADENA, Calif. -- Since moving to the Los Angeles area from Florida at the age of nine, Nebraska tackle Dan Vili Waldrop has lived in a lot of places. His transient childhood included the likes of Wilmington, El Monte, Rialto and even Compton, California.

But despite having nearly all of L.A. covered, it took a trip back home to the Rose Bowl for Waldrop to make his way to Beverly Hills.

"I have driven past a lot of things and seen a lot of places, but never made it to Beverly Hills," Waldrop said. "Until now."

I knew the national championship game would eventually be at the Rose Bowl. I thought a lot about coming back here and playing in front of my family. Now, here we are. It's amazing.
Nebraska T Dan Vili Waldrop

He's seen plenty of the high rent district of late, what with Nebraska's team hotel located on ritzy Wilshire Boulevard. His favorite part? Not the shops. Not the women. The cars.

"Unbelievable," Waldrop said. "My neck gets sore from looking around. And I'm the guy on the team that points them out. 'Hey, Lamborghini on the left!' 'Lexus on the right!' It's incredible."

Born in Pago, American Samoa, Waldrop lived in Florida with his grandparents, Dan Sina Waldrop, until he was nine. He then moved to the Los Angeles area with his parents, Itielu and Bernice Vili, where he lived until heading to Nebraska three years ago.

Waldrop is one of three players with ties to Southern California. Junior running back Thunder Collins played at Manual Arts High and East Los Angeles College and senior Dion Booker, a free safety and rover, played at Oceanside El Camino High.

It was Waldrop, though, who played in the city championship game when he was in high school at the Rose Bowl.

"I couldn't believe it back then," he said. "And this just blows that away. I knew the national championship game would eventually be at the Rose Bowl. I thought a lot about coming back here and playing in front of my family. Now, here we are. It's amazing."

During his senior year at Wilmington Banning High in 1998, Waldrop said he wanted to attend USC, but that the staff there really wasn't interested in his abilities. So he pondered Nebraska, Colorado, Washington and Washington State before settling on the Huskers.

"I enjoy winning -- who doesn't?" Waldrop said. "And that was all they did at Nebraska. Plus, it was best place to go if you wanted to be an offensive lineman."

Like most young Nebraska lineman, Waldrop struggled early.

"That first year, I had no idea what was going on," Waldrop said. "I was completely lost. It wasn't happening."

In time, he picked up the nuances of the blocking schemes and became one of the Huskers top lineman. This past year, he totaled 95 pancakes, including 17 knockdown blocks against Rice.

As for staying in a top shelf hotel in Beverly Hills, Waldrop says it sure beats Compton, where he lived for a short while during his childhood. But he's still not sure it's him.

"I'm not so sure I belong," the 6-5, 330-pound Waldrop said. "I think I stick out a little. I like my own home."

Husker invasion
The latest reports out of Nebraska hint that as many as 70,000 Husker faithful plan on making the trip west for Thursday's game.

And typically, Nebraska fans don't make the trip to tailgate. They do it to watch the game, meaning it could be quite the pro-Husker crowd.

"Our fans kind of find their way into the stadium," Nebraska coach Frank Solich said.

While Miami has sold its allotment of 20,000 tickets, some reports have said that ticket brokers joined the Hurricanes booster club at $150 a pop to earn the right to purchase a block of Rose Bowl seats at face value.

Those tickets are then being turned around and sold to Nebraska fans. As for whether or not a pro-Nebraska crowd gives the Huskers an edge, that's a topic for debate.

"We'd like to think that it does," Solich said. "Of course, those are 70,000 people who are coming a long way expecting Nebraska to win a national championship.

Miami free safety Ed Reed is unimpressed.

"It doesn't matter," Reed said. "We all know Nebraska has a lot of fans and will be well represented out here, but it won't have any bearing on the game. The game is played on the field."

Happy New Year
With the national championship game not until Thursday, Nebraska players would seem to have ample time to hit the L.A. bar scene for New Year's Eve tonight, right?

Wrong.

Most Huskers said on Monday their New Year's Eve plans consisted of watching movies, playing video games and for those who are really daring -- watching game tape.

"Sure, it's New Year's and everybody wants to have fun," Waldrop said. "But we could care less. We've got a game to play, a national championship game."

Rain, Rain
Nobody ever said the weather in Los Angeles made sense. While Miami has been treated to sunny afternoons and typically clear conditions during their practice sessions, Nebraska found itself on Sunday practicing in a downpour, just like it did on Saturday.

"It just came down," Husker coach Frank Solich said. "But we weren't limited in what we wanted to accomplish at all."

With a slight chance of showers in the forecast for Thursday night's game, some aren't so sure the wet practices were a bad thing.

"I think it could be a big advantage for us if it rains," I-back Dahrran Diedrick said. "Because we will have practiced in it much more than they have down here."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.







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