JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Their journeys to the Super Bowl might have been on different roads, but they all started from the same spot — playing college football in Los Angeles.
USC and UCLA will have plenty of presence in Sunday’s Super Bowl and, although most are backups, names familiar to Southern California football fans are sure to crop up.
Seattle Seahawks linebackers Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan played for the Trojans, and running back Derrick Coleman for the Bruins. Smith, a seventh-round draft pick in 2011, provided the game-saving interception in the Seahawks’ NFC championship game victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Coleman, a Fullerton Troy High alum, plays on every special teams unit and is a backup fullback and running back.
“If they want me to go out there and kick, I’ll kick,” he said.
Morgan had to come back kicking. He was not drafted and was released by the Seahawks after signing as a free agent in 2011. But he has emerged as a valuable role player after getting a second chance.
“It’s been a journey,” said Morgan, who is in his third season.
The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Morgan is on special teams and also has played linebacker and defensive end. He has 11 tackles.
“You have to devise a way to make yourself valuable to the team,” he said. “Everybody can’t be a starter.”
Seahawks linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr., who played on three Super Bowl-champion teams and recruited and coached Morgan at USC, said the Texas native rebounded from his initial release and was ready when called upon.
“He had five weeks at home to think about how would he do it differently if he ever had another chance,” Norton said. “A lot of players are different people after they get released because their life is thrown in front of them.
“He came back just fiery and tough and wanted to prove himself, and it’s paid off for him.”
Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson was a Trojan for two seasons before transferring to Tennessee, and offensive lineman Winston Justice also played at USC.
Jackson, who attended Lake Balboa Birmingham High, played at USC in 2008 and 2009. But when Pete Carroll left to coach the Seahawks, Jackson took advantage of a provision in USC’s NCAA penalties that allowed players to transfer without having to sit out a season.
“It was just more of a business decision,” Jackson said, adding, “I felt like if Coach Carroll can leave and he’s making all the money, I can leave and go make a name for myself. And that’s what I did.”
The Broncos selected Jackson in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. He has started the last seven games and has seven sacks.
Justice left USC after his junior season and was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2006 draft. The former Long Beach Poly standout played six seasons with the Eagles before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March 2012. He signed as a free agent with the Broncos in September and has mostly played on special teams.
“It’s almost surreal,” Justice said of being in the Super Bowl. “It’s a big deal when you’re in it. You try not to make it that big of a deal so you won’t be too nervous about it.”
These guys won’t be heard from Sunday, but former USC tight end Anthony McCoy is on injured reserve for the Seahawks and former Bruins safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve for the Broncos. Moore, a second-round draft pick in 2011, had been a starting safety for Denver, but was diagnosed in November with lateral compartment syndrome in his left leg and had season-ending surgery.
But for those on the field, the big moment is coming fast.
“I think it’s going to sink in,” Jackson said, “when we’re kicking off and you see all the lights flashing from cameras.”