Former USC standout Ryan Kalil anchors Carolina line for Cam Newton

Former USC standout Ryan Kalil anchors Carolina line for Cam Newton
Carolina Panthers' Ryan Kalil speaks during Super Bowl 50 Opening Night's sessionon Monday. (JOHN G. MABANGLO / EPA)

He is the center for the center of attention at the Super Bowl.

Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers is responsible for getting the ball into quarterback Cam Newton's hands, and one of five offensive linemen responsible for keeping the NFL's probable most valuable player out of harm's way.

Kalil, 30, is a former USC standout in his ninth NFL season. He was chosen in the second round of the 2007 draft, and in 2011 signed a six-year, $49-million contract.

The bearded and loquacious Kalil has looked and sounded at ease throughout the buildup to Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos at Levi's Stadium.

Playing for USC teams that won two national titles and fell just short of winning another, he said, prepared him for the NFL and a Super Bowl opportunity.

"I did imagine it," he said of playing in the Super Bowl. "I didn't realize how hard it was to get here. I think part of that was just being so spoiled by the time at USC.

"There are a lot of similarities there in the way we prepare, in the way we have fun, in the work. But it's tough to win in the National Football League, more so than it is in college because every team is good."

Kalil, a five-time Pro Bowl pick, said his most memorable Super Bowl moment as an observer was when former USC safety Troy Polamalu played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL against the Seattle Seahawks.

"I loved watching him play," Kalil said. "I just remember being zoned in on him."

Ten years later, Kalil is the leader of a line that has two second-year guards, Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, third-year tackle Mike Remmers and veteran tackle Michael Oher.

"You've got great leadership like that," Newton said of Kalil and Oher, "guys that have been in this league for a long time and have been thriving at their position for so long, those guys have an unbelievable blueprint to follow."

Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware studied Kalil on tape during the last two weeks.


"He's the orchestrator," Ware said. "He's a very smart center and he keeps the chains rolling."

Turner and Norwell credit Kalil for bringing them along on and off the field.

"One, he's a leader," Turner said. "Two, he's a veteran. And three, he's just a good person, a guy that has helped me from the day I stepped foot here.

"He goes out there and plays his heart out. Therefore, I'm right next to him doing the same."

Said Norwell: "I look up to him like an older brother and a great friend and a leader…. One of the best teammates I've ever been around."

Kalil said he was proud to represent USC in the sport's biggest game.

"It's tremendous for me, and the guys love to be in the locker room and brag about their schools," he said. "I think 'SC is one of the top schools in guys … in the NFL. So that's fun to be able to carry on that tradition."

Playing for mom

Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas is looking forward to having his mother in attendance on Sunday.

In 2000, Katrina Stuckey Smith was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for drug trafficking. Last July, her sentence was among 46 commuted by President Obama. She saw her son play in person for the first time when the Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers last month.

Two years ago, Thomas' mother watched him in the Super Bowl on television from a Florida prison. The Seattle Seahawks routed the Broncos.

"It's totally different," Thomas said. "Up towards the [last] Super Bowl, my mom and granny were able to call me, I talked to them I don't know how many times; they were excited for me. They were saying this is going to happen, that is going to happen, but you know we didn't come out on top last time and now we get another chance, and it's special as well to also have her here.

"I don't have to talk to her on the phone anymore. I can be in the same room, we can play together about it. It's just special, and I will know she'll be sitting at the seat, know she's there and it's just like a dream come true."

More Trojans

Former USC defensive linemen Wes Horton and George Uko are in San Francisco as practice-squad players for the Panthers and Broncos, respectively.

Horton signed with the Panthers as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He started 15 games in 2014 but was released twice this season, once after returning from a four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance.

Horton played in eight games and started twice. He is not on the roster for Sunday's game but described the Super Bowl as an "awesome" experience.

"We've been building this team for three or four years now," he said, "We finally put it all together."

Horton will be a free agent after the season.

"I'm under the understanding they want to re-sign me, but we'll see what happens there," he said.

Uko, who left USC after his junior season in 2013, was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season before signing with the Broncos.

"I've never been to a Super Bowl game, let alone be a part of it," he said. "It's all part of the process. You look for opportunity."

Former Trojans offensive line coach James Cregg also is with the Broncos as an assistant.

Twitter: @latimesklein