Roger Hance leaned easily against a fence at Howard Jones Field and smiled as he watched USC prepare for the Rose Bowl.
Hance, the father of backup quarterback Brandon Hance, has been a semi-regular at Trojan practices since spring, but he seemed to take special satisfaction in watching his son work out and enjoy unguarded late-December moments with teammates.
The situation was in marked contrast to the last time Roger attended a Rose Bowl workout, on the eve of the 2001 Rose Bowl between Purdue and Washington.
Brandon, a graduate of Woodland Hills Taft High, was a redshirt at Purdue. The Boilermakers were practicing at the Coliseum. So Roger drove in from his home in the San Fernando Valley, walked into the stadium and ...
"Some guy comes over and says, '[Purdue Coach] Joe Tiller wanted me to tell you that practices are closed and you'll have to leave,' " Roger recalled. "Can you believe it? A father wants to come out and see how his son is doing and they just kick me out."
Said Brandon: "It wasn't personal. It was policy."
That's not USC's policy. USC parents enjoy total access. Throughout spring drills and the regular season -- and especially during bowl-game preparations -- mothers, fathers and other relatives of Trojan players freely roam the sidelines, often outnumbering the coaching staff.
About the only thing missing is a giant welcome mat outside Goux's Gate at the entrance to Howard Jones Field.
"I'm not doing it to be nice," Coach Pete Carroll said. "I think it helps the kids, and it helps the families and helps in our whole atmosphere of what our program is all about.
"It's one of the things that makes us [different] from other schools that [players] can go to out of the area. Their parents can't be part of it to the same level they can here. We have a very budding relationship with our families that's really cool. They share this experience with their kids. I can't see any negatives to it."
Neither can the parents, who relish the opportunity to encourage and keep tabs on their sons.
"It's a way for parents to stay connected to what's going on," said Gary Justice, father of sophomore tackle Winston Justice.
Some parents plan their week around their practice visits.
"Just watching your son having fun, that's what life should be about," said Bob Leinart, father of quarterback Matt Leinart, who meets his son for lunch every Wednesday before watching practice.
Others drop in when they can.
"That's why I'm glad he stayed so close to home," said Patrick Colbert, father of senior flanker Keary Colbert.
USC players said they did not feel stifled by their parents' presence, that there were other avenues to assert independence without breaking a bond that began developing in youth sports leagues.
"I love it when my dad's out there -- I want him out here as much as he can," Matt Leinart said. "All players need that support. Even when I was sitting the last two years, he was out here every Wednesday.
"That could not have happened if I went to Oklahoma or Michigan. Great schools. Great football. But too far for a boy from Southern California to share with his dad."
Several players who did travel across the country to play for the Trojans said local parents who attended practices helped fill a void. The family of senior lineman Jacob Rogers, who is from Oxnard, took in freshman quarterback John David Booty of Louisiana.
Senior cornerback Will Poole, from New York, said he got support from several teammates' parents.
"It really doesn't matter where you're from -- these parents take you in," Poole said. "It's like I do have somebody out here who cares and watches over me. So I have a whole lot of family out here."
USC's family-friendly policy might mean more to sophomore running back Hershel Dennis than any other Trojan.
When Dennis was a senior at Long Beach Poly High, he was intent on moving away from home and playing for Oregon.
His mother, Rose Teofilo, could not bear the thought of her baby -- the youngest of her five children and her only son -- being so far away.
"As it was getting closer to signing day, I'd wake up in the morning and she'd be standing over me crying," Dennis recalled.
Still, Dennis was determined to prove he could become a man on his own. When he gathered with several Poly teammates in the school auditorium to announce his college choice, the room was filled with excitement and tension.
As Dennis' turn to announce came up, he glanced at his mother, who was trembling as she made her way from the back of the room to the front row.
"I took one last look at my mom and said, 'The University of Southern California,' " Dennis said, grinning. "Best decision I ever made in my life."
Rose Teofilo attends practice daily, often with some of her daughters' children in tow. Sometimes she walks the sideline, greeting parents, players and others with hugs. Other times she sits on an equipment trunk, always with a watchful eye on No. 34.
"Hershel is my baby," she said. "A mother needs to look out for her son."
In retrospect, Dennis said, he could not imagine playing at a school that was far from his mother or did not embrace family.
"There's a lot of love between us," he said. "I don't worry about what other people think. She's Mom. She's super, and there's nothing that makes me feel better than to see her happy.
"This could not have happened at Oregon or any other school. This could only have happened at 'SC."