Southern California quarterback Todd Marinovich was reared for this. Sun-bred and 10-grain fed, as an infant he had a stuffed football in his crib, as a toddler he pushed a medicine ball, as a schoolboy he set records. As a young man, he is a 6-foot-4, 212-pounder clad in maroon and gold who will start Saturday for No. 9 USC against No. 1 Notre Dame.
Seven members of Marinovich's family have attended USC, including his father, Marv, a former lineman and Trojans team captain, who now is a conditioning expert and directed his son's stringent upbringing. Sugar, refined flour, processed foods and cartoons were among those things prohibited as ruinous. Forget the stork, this kid was carried in by Traveler, to the tune of Conquest. Saturday his aim and his father's will be realized when he steps on the field in South Bend, Ind.
"I can't wait for it," Marinovich said. "It's one I've been waiting for. Good players play their best in big games."
Marinovich is the first USC redshirt freshman to start at quarterback against Notre Dame. He came by the distinction when original starter Pat O'Hara was hurt in pre-season, then earned it by completing 104 of 169 passes (61.5 percent) for 1,216 yards and nine touchdowns. After an opening season loss to Illinois, he has led the Trojans to five straight victories. Notre Dame is the next step in his by-the-numbers career.
His role at USC may have been inevitable ever since he was a child. Certainly ever since he signed his letter of intent two years ago, to the heartbreak of virtually every other Division I-A school, over 100 of them pursuing him out of Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., where he threw for 9,194 yards and set a national prep record.
USC Coach Larry Smith knew how to appeal to both Marinovich's sense of heritage and self-esteem, and took the recruit to the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the roaring voices of 100,000 were piped in over the public-address system, and a sign on the electronic scoreboard read, "Welcome Todd Marinovich." The ploy wrested him from Stanford, his original choice.
That Marinovich even considered any place but USC was near heresy, since his grandfather attended the school, his father played on both the offensive and defensive lines from 1959 to 1962 and later for the Oakland Raiders, and his uncle, Craig Fertig, was a star Trojans quarterback in the early 1960s and led an upset of Notre Dame, the film of which Marinovich has watched several times a year all his life. His mother, Trudi, went to USC, so did his sister, Traci, and two cousins also are enrolled.
Marv Marinovich, who runs a fitness center in nearby Anaheim, frequently has said his goal was to create a "perfect environment" for an athletic child, a statement that since has caused both of them some regret. Ever since a Sports Illustrated article his senior year in high school detailed his upbringing, Todd Marinovich has been labelled RoboQB, and it has been insinuated his father set out to create some kind of test-tube baby. But both have replied that there always was choice involved; it was Todd who elected to be a football player in ninth grade, it was Marv who initially favored Stanford.
In truth Marinovich began a training regimen in infancy. He could cling to a balance beam and do pushups before he could walk. It is said that nary a Twinkie, Ding Dong, Yodel, Big Mac or Coca-Cola passed his tongue. When he went to birthday parties he carried his own sugarless ice cream or a bag of carrot sticks. Later the elder Marinovich employed various specialists, from biochemists to psychologists to improve his son, at one point consulting 13 of them.
Marinovich has proceeded to fulfill the expectations his upbringing created. Against Ohio State, trailing and with an injured left wrist, he threw four touchdown passes, including an 87-yarder that is the longest in Trojans history. He came into his own against Washington State, when he brought the Trojans back from a 17-10 deficit with 3:31 to play, on a 91-yard, 18-play drive that ended with his two-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Ervins, and a successful pass for a two-point conversion and the victory.
"That comeback really helped," he said. "Now you know you're never out of it, until the last play. ... There was some confusion early (in the season). But it's all getting much clearer now."
Notre Dame will tell more about exactly how good Marinovich is. He has made few freshman errors, and that he has only thrown three interceptions may be his most important statistic. The Irish are favored, as they are unbeaten and the defending national champions, and have won the last six in the series. But Marinovich promises to try their dominance. "I had no part in that (streak)," he said. "My slate is clean against them."