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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : TAKING OVER THE REINS : With Troy Aikman and Rodney Peete Out of Picture, Their Successors--Bret Johnson at UCLA and Todd Marinovich at USC--Will Certainly Have Their Hands Full. . . : Trojan Quarterback Inherits Job That He Seemed Destined for All Along

September 03, 1989|STEVE SPRINGER | Times Staff Writer

First off, let's get something straight. USC quarterback Todd Marinovich is tired of this born-to-be-a-Trojan stuff.

No, he did not come home from the hospital aboard Traveler.

No, he did not have cardinal and gold diapers.

Marinovich is just another guy whose family tree is planted in Heritage Hall, whose first companion in his crib was a football and whose athletic training began before he could walk.

The Marinovich roots at USC run deep. Todd's father, Marv, was both an offensive and defensive lineman at the school in 1959, '61 and '62. His uncle is Craig Fertig, a star Trojan quarterback in the early '60s and later an assistant coach and administrator at the school.

Todd's mother (Trudi), sister (Traci) and grandfather (Henry Fertig) all went there. Two of his cousins, Marc and Jennifer Fertig, are also at USC. Marc is an infielder on the Trojan baseball team.

And so, eventually, did Todd.

A week ago, Marinovich, who redshirted his first year, figured to start this season on the bench. Junior Pat O'Hara appeared to have won the starting job after putting in his apprenticeship under Rodney Peete.

Then O'Hara went down in a scrimmage with a season-ending knee injury and Marinovich suddenly had his destiny before him. Monday evening at the Coliseum, Marinovich will get his first chance to fulfill that destiny, when USC plays host to Illinois in its season opener.

If nothing else, he should be more prepared for this sort of situation than many his age.

His father went on after USC to play with the Raiders and also coached and scouted in the NFL before getting into the sports fitness business. He now runs an Orange County training center.

Todd, too, was a fitness freak. From birth.

Marv read books on infant exercise and had his son doing stretching and strengthening routines at the age of one month. Todd was soon crawling around the house with a medicine ball. His diet was strictly monitored. Other youngsters would arrive at a birthday party with a present in hand. Todd came with his own cake and ice cream, sugar free.

Drink a Coke? Forget it. Eat a Big Mac? Never!

Eventually, Marv corralled 13 different experts in various fields of physical development to work with his bionic boy, everybody from an eye specialist to a biochemist. And, lo and behold, Todd grew up to be 6 feet 4 inches and 210 pounds and became an athlete.

His father insists that was not the only goal.

"A lot has been written and said about it (Todd's life-long training regimen)," Marv said, "but it was done for fitness. I wanted to create the perfect environment for his development. I wanted him to have a perfect environment to do whatever he wanted to do. If he had been a musician, that would have been fine. I still would have wanted him to have the discipline and the training.

"But before he was old enough to make choices, I had him participating in athletics. If you wait until they are old enough to make a choice, it's too late. They have no background."

No complaints from Todd.

"I've done everything so-called normal kids have done," he said. "I don't really know what normal is."

It isn't Todd on an athletic field, that's for sure. He excelled at almost every sport he tried. He played Pop Warner football. He became an All-Southern Section second team basketball player. He was even drafted by the Angels, though he never played high school baseball.

But football seemed his destiny. After playing his first game as a freshman at Mater Dei High School in Orange County, Todd came off the field, smiled at his father and said, "Dad, this is it."

And it was.

By the time his high school career ended at Capistrano Valley in Mission Viejo, where he transferred after his sophomore year, he had become the first prep quarterback in the country to exceed 9,000 yards passing, finishing with 9,194.

His choice of a college? Be serious.

But actually, it wasn't that simple.

"I don't think his relatives made that much of an impact," his father said. "Being a quarterback, he watched John Elway. USC hadn't thrown a lot. Stanford did."

Todd was leaning toward Stanford, but the USC people tried to get him to focus on the Trojans.

To do so, they used tunnel vision. There was no game going on, but they marched him through the famous Coliseum tunnel that leads to the field. Once outside, Marinovich was greeted by the USC fight song, a recording of a full house of fans cheering and a flashing scoreboard that read "Welcome Todd Marinovich."

"I got the chills," he said.

Ultimately, his father said, "Todd wanted to be in Southern California. (Coach) Larry Smith was so positive and dynamic. And Todd didn't want to be a successful quarterback with an unsuccessful program. Winning is very important to him."

So he chose USC. Marv maintains he would have been happy with any decision Todd had made.

Even UCLA?

"That," Marv said after a long, long pause, "would have been difficult."

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