John Humphrey, Calen Bullock prepare for UCLA-USC rivalry reunion

They shared the same touchline at the Rose Bowl and celebrated rivalry victories together as Pasadena Muir High teammates, but when UCLA’s John Humphrey and USC’s Calen Bullock return to their beloved hometown stadium on Saturday, only one Pasadenaese gets to brag.

“In the back of our minds it’s going to be, ‘Who runs the city?’ ‘ Humphrey said with a grin.

The competition between UCLA and USC is characterized by numerous local connections that cover the 12 miles between the two campuses and beyond. Part rivalry, part reunion, Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl pits former high school teammates against each other in a matchup worth more than just local dominance.

No. 7 USC can secure a berth in the Pac-12 title game with a win. It would be an added rivalry bonus to eliminate UCLA No. 16 from the competition in the process.

While Santa Ana Mater Dei and Bellflower St. John Bosco of the Trinity League have respectively nine sides of the rivalry this year. Earning the award and playing in their hometown makes this weekend’s high-stakes game even more special for Bullock and Humphrey.

“We’re from the same high school, we really try to motivate everyone from our high school,” Bullock said. “It’s a big deal for us.”

USC and UCLA Serra grads Max Williams and Devin Kirkwood, respectively, were fixtures in the defensive backfield before the recent injuries. After leading Grace Brethren to back-to-back CIF Southern Section championships, Jay Toia and Stanley Ta’ufo’ou are now anchoring the defenses at UCLA and USC, respectively.

When Josh Henderson heard that his former players had made the shortlist of high school teammates-turned-rivalry starters, Josh Henderson took a deep breath.

UCLA defenseman Jay Toia reacts on the bench after a game against Washington.

UCLA defenseman Jay Toia reacts on the bench after a game against Washington October 16, 2021 in Seattle.

(Ted S Warren/Associated Press)

“Honestly, it’s surreal,” said Henderson, who trained with Grace Brethren for 10 years. “It is wonderful.”

With Toia and Ta’ufo’ou on both lines, the Lancers won 2017 and 2018 CIF SS titles and the 2018 CIF State 2AA title.

Toia was “always a force of nature,” said Henderson, who is now a coach at the Immanuel Schools in Reedley. The 6-foot-3, 325-pound defensive tackle, who joined UCLA after attending USC’s spring practice in 2021, played in all 12 games last season before earning a starting role this year as a runner-up took over.

Ta’ufo’ou, a redshirt junior, is in his second season as a starter for the Trojans and has 19 tackles with 4 1/2 tackles in the loss.

USC defenseman Stanley Ta'ufo'ou in the first half against Arizona.

USC defenseman Stanley Ta’ufo’ou during the first half against Arizona October 29 in Tucson.

(Rick Scuteri/Associated Press)

With his former players on opposing touchlines this weekend, Henderson remains loyal by committing to a defensive struggle. He doesn’t care who wins.

The same cannot be said for Serra coach Scott Altenberg. The UCLA season ticket holder unabashedly cheers for his Bruins even when Kirkwood is out.

Kirkwood, a sophomore, started the first nine games of the season from a recent wrist injury. After a knee injury cost Williams his junior year in 2021, the former Serra star started eight games in safety this season. Williams’ 55 tackles are second for the Trojans despite an injury against Colorado.

The injuries will place even more responsibility on Pasadena products. Bullock leads USC’s ball-hawking secondary with four interceptions.

USC defenseman Calen Bullock reacts after making a tackle against Washington State in the first half.

USC defenseman Calen Bullock reacts after making a first-half tackle against Washington State October 8 at the Coliseum.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound safety made an instant impression at USC last year, starting in three positions and earning freshman All-American honors. The quick start was reminiscent of his career at Muir, where he quickly lived up to his Popwarner nickname “Super Glue” for his ability to play the ball and stay under cover despite his relatively thin frame.

“I don’t know what it is, but he has something,” said Humphrey, a junior.

With Bullock safe and Humphrey on the corner, the Mustangs made it to the Southern Section Division 11 title game in 2019. After Humphrey came off the bench during his freshman two years at UCLA, Humphrey snagged the starting cornerback job during the Pac- 12-game and enters the rivalry on Saturday, a game with seven consecutive starts and 32 tackles.

The former high school teammates still talk to each other, especially in the offseason. Though their busy schedules have left little time to chat this season anyway, Bullock said he won’t leave the door open during Rivalry Week.

“I’ll probably block him,” he said with a chuckle.

Humphrey said he might have to return the sentiment, although he admitted he will still hope for Bullock to do well on Saturday. Their hometown replaces the crosstown rivalry.

“We have to get it out of the mud,” Humphrey said. “That makes us special. We are from Pasadena and we are very proud.” John Humphrey, Calen Bullock prepare for UCLA-USC rivalry reunion

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