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A House Divided

USC's Carlson has a friendship, and an apartment in Westwood, with UCLA's Koral and White

December 01, 2004|Gary Klein and Lonnie White | Times Staff Writers

USC receiver Greig Carlson lives with it every day.

So do UCLA quarterback David Koral and Bruin running back Manuel White.

For these players, there is no escaping college football's only major cross-town rivalry.

Because the rival does not live across town. Or even across the street or the hall.

He lives in the three-bedroom apartment the three friends share in Westwood.

"To us, it's just home," Carlson said.

The unorthodox housing arrangement, which exists with the blessing of Trojan and Bruin coaches, is another unique plot point in USC's and UCLA's long-running L.A. story.

"Where else could you do that?" Trojan Coach Pete Carroll said. "I'm sure it's fun for those guys right now."

All three players are looking forward to Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl, when USC and UCLA will meet for the 74th time.

For top-ranked USC, a victory will complete a perfect regular season and put the Trojans in the Orange Bowl, this year's bowl championship series title game.

UCLA hopes to pull off what would be one of the biggest victories in school history and improve its bowl prospects from the Insight to the Sun Bowl.

But the atmosphere at the players' home is not rife with bluster -- or partisanship. None of the walls is painted cardinal and gold. Or blue and gold.

"We talk about football, but we don't really get into anything too serious about our teams," said Carlson, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship before the 2003 season for his work as a punt-return specialist. "We talk about what happened nationally. We're fans of the game before we're rivals."

Carlson and Koral, who backs up starter Drew Olson, have been best friends since they played together as seniors at Palisades High in 2000. They shared an apartment near downtown Los Angeles for more than a year before moving to Westwood when Koral was accepted by UCLA.

"We're pretty much like brothers," said Koral, who was a redshirt at Vanderbilt in 2001 and played at Santa Monica College in 2002 and 2003.

White, a senior from Valencia who is the Bruins' second-leading rusher, moved in before the season.

Coaches from UCLA and USC are not concerned about potential espionage.

"I trust those guys, and I know that they are not going to do something that will cause any problems," UCLA running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. "I know that they are not going to leave stuff around that may be detrimental this week."

USC receivers coach Lane Kiffin said it would not matter.

"You could give someone our playbook, and it would screw them up," he said. "That stuff is overrated."

USC and UCLA players, many of whom grew up together or played with or against each other in high school, are aware of -- and apparently enjoy -- the trio's housing arrangement.

"It's funny to think about the situation, but it's not really a big deal," Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart said. "Everyone is mature enough to handle it."

Said Koral: "A lot of guys on the team know Greig. Even when he has his SC friends over, it's nothing special because we all respect each other."

Although teammates were never a problem, coaches were considered another matter. Carlson and Koral said they were apprehensive about informing coaches about their living arrangement.

"As soon as he got admitted to UCLA I was like, 'Uh-oh. Now what am I going to do?' " Carlson said.

Carlson followed his friend if not, in the minds of many Trojan loyalists, his senses. He moved to Westwood.

Before the season, he checked with Mark Jackson, USC's assistant athletic director in charge of football operations, to find out whether there would be a problem.

"We know who Greig is and what he's about," Jackson said. "He's always been a mature kid. We were fine with it."

Koral did not immediately inform UCLA Coach Karl Dorrell. But one day, during a film session, Koral saw Carlson on the screen and asked whether the play could be run back.

"Coach asked why, and I told him that I wanted to see No. 19 block," Koral said. "That's when I think the coaches started to know."

While Koral and White make the short trek to the UCLA campus each day, Carlson commutes by motorcycle to USC.

Despite being friends off the field, White said he would not hesitate to level Carlson on Saturday.

"If I get a shot on the field, I'm taking it," said White, who has played on punt coverage teams. "I'll hit him a little harder than I would anyone else. That's like if I was playing against my brother, you always want to outdo him."

That potential collision is still a few days away. Today and Thursday, the roommates will enjoy household camaraderie.

On Friday, the players will leave their apartment, head to their respective schools and then bus with their teams to different hotels.

"We'll probably just say, 'See you tomorrow,' " Carlson said.

And then remind each other to lock the door and turn out the lights.




USC has won five consecutive times against UCLA after losing eight in a row to the Bruins:

* 2003: USC 47, UCLA 22

* 2002: USC 52, UCLA 21

* 2001: USC 27, UCLA 0

* 2000: USC 38, UCLA 35

* 1999: USC 17, UCLA 7

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