Parents of Trojan football players support their sons from afar

If this were a normal season, Drake London’s game-winning touchdown in USC’s improbable comeback victory over Arizona State Nov. 7 would have been accompanied by 70,000 screaming fans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

London’s family — including his mother Cindi, father Dwan and sister Makayla — would have been part of that barrage.

Instead, when the Fox Sports camera angle was such that the ball, in London’s left hand, was blocked by the sophomore receiver’s body immediately following his fingertip grab and ensuing end-zone somersault, the London family was momentarily frozen in front of the television at their home in Moorpark, Calif. 

Sophomore receiver Drake London hauled in the go-ahead touchdown pass against Arizona State Nov. 7, but when London first popped up, it was hard to tell if he had caught it. (Screenshot of FOX broadcast)

“I think we lost our breath,” Cindi said. “And then I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then we’re all standing up — but it was kind of a blur. And then we all just kinda gasped, like, ‘Does he have the ball?’ And then we were screaming and running and our phones were blowing up … it was really exciting. But yeah, he kind of tricked us. We didn’t know that he caught it.” 

Because of the pandemic, parents and relatives of Trojan football players will not be allowed into the Coliseum to watch their sons take the field this year. Los Angeles County Department of Public Health authorities, who have the ultimate say, have declared it a no-go.  

Roughly two weeks after the Pac-12 Conference announced Sept. 24 it would hold a 2020 football season, a petition circulated to allow family members to attend games with social distancing measures in place. It was addressed to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and the six governors of Pac-12 member states. 

The petition, launched by USC redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Liam Douglass’ mother, Sahaja, who could not be reached by the Daily Trojan, bore no fruit for Trojan parents. 

So the broadcast-induced confusion that bedeviled the London household is, in 2020, the norm for all Trojan parents. 

Max Slovis said he doesn’t remember ever missing one of his son Kedon’s games. He had planned to attend all of USC’s home and away contests even when last year, to start the season, Kedon was the Trojans’ backup signal-caller.

In that season-opener, Max was dutifully watching at the Coliseum when starter JT Daniels suffered a season-ending injury just before halftime and Kedon, a three-star freshman recruit, took over.

Lisa (left) and Max (right) Slovis were at the Coliseum for their son Kedon’s college debut, the 2019 season-opener against Fresno State when Kedon was a freshman. (Photo courtesy of Max Slovis)

Against ASU in this year’s season-opener, Kedon threw for 381 yards and two touchdowns as an established star, and Max took it all in from his JW Marriott hotel room in Los Angeles.

“It’s nice to be in a stadium where you can’t pace. I was up and down pacing for every minute of that ballgame because it was so stressful,” Max Slovis said. “You know, it’s just tough to not be there. It is tough.”

The ASU game was the first showing in the college career of redshirt freshman receiver Bru McCoy. McCoy’s path here has been a long one: He signed with USC in December 2018 and enrolled in January, flipped his commitment to Texas later that month and took part in the Longhorns’ spring practices, then transferred back to USC in summer 2019. But McCoy was kept out of play all season after coming down with an illness that fall. 

“And the first opportunity he gets to play, we’re not able to be there,” said his father, Horace II, who missed Bru’s late onside kick recovery because he was running down the hallway of his home celebrating Bru’s touchdown on the previous play. “It’s tough, but again, we understand.”

In late October, USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn and UCLA counterpart Martin Jarmond issued a joint proposal to California and L.A. County health officials to welcome a limited number of family members to the Coliseum and Rose Bowl for their respective teams’ home games. 

On Oct. 31, seven days before the start of the season, it was denied. 

“Honestly, it messed up my streak. I’ve never missed one of my son’s games — ever,” said Dennis Jackson, father of sophomore linebacker Drake Jackson. “It was kinda cool watching him from the house, you know what I mean? I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. But I just prefer being at the game more.”

Dennis said that although his own game day experience was quite atypical — the Jacksons watched the ASU game with sophomore cornerback Chris Steele’s family at the Steele home — his son felt his presence at the Coliseum anyway. 

“He’s used to me whistling. He knows when I’m at the game,” Dennis said. “It was funny, he said, ‘Dad, I think they recorded your whistles because I coulda sworn I heard your whistles.’”

The Jackson family after Drake’s collegiate debut, USC’s 2019 opener against Fresno State. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Jackson) 

Like Dennis’ whistling, many typical game day traditions have taken a new form for Trojan parents. 

Max, who said he’s always been so invested in Kedon’s games that it’s hard to think about much else before a big contest, said game day has now turned into just making food, sitting around and waiting for kickoff. 

Typically, the London family would say an in-person prayer over Drake before any sports game; for Week 1, that had to be done a week in advance, with a follow-up pregame prayer in a family group text hours before kickoff.

Afterward, Cindi made breakfast while they watched the pregame show, Makayla’s boyfriend came over and together, right in the living room, the four watched Drake put up a performance that would net him Trojan of the Game honors. 

Before the season began, the Londons told Drake that even if they couldn’t be at the games, they’d be there with him in spirit. Technically, though, they’ll be there physically as well — at least, their images will. 

Cindi, Dwan and Makayla’s faces are on three of the cardboard cutouts placed around the Coliseum, though they only saw Makayla’s on TV.

“We were like, ‘Look for us at the game,’ and he was like, ‘Oh, you guys get to come?’” Cindi said. “We were like, ‘No, we got cutouts.’ And he was like, ‘You did?!’ So I think it was just kind of something like, ‘OK, you guys are kinda still there, even though you’re not there.’”

Makayla (left), Dwan (second from left), Cindi (second from right) and Drake London at Drake’s senior night at Moorpark High School in 2019. Cindi London said she’s only ever missed one of Drake’s games, due to back surgery when Drake was playing on the JV team. She even had Dwan wheel her to the next one. (Photo courtesy of Cindi London)

And for the McCoys, Horace still has a hard time sleeping the night before Bru’s games — he’s always been that way. He still texts his son before games to give him support and advice. In preparation for the ASU game, Horace and Bru’s mom Shelby grilled food before Saturday so they didn’t have to think about it on game day. They decided not to have anyone over to watch. 

They just wanted to focus on the game. 

“We were sending [Bru] photos, we put our ‘SC flag up,” Shelby said. “We had all these things, all this ‘SC stuff around the house. I’m like, ‘Did we go overboard?’ He’s like, ‘Never!’”

A massive inflatable Tommy Trojan is among the many USC-themed decorations around the McCoy home these days. (Photo courtesy of Shelby McCoy)

And after the ASU game, Bru did his best to make his parents a part of the festivities, FaceTiming them right after it ended so they could hear the team celebrating in the locker room. 

“He knew that we wanted to be there in the worst way,” Horace said. “So he did everything that he could possibly do to keep us feeling like we were there.”

Not every Pac-12 school is completely barring family from games this season, so the week-to-week routine for the four parental units — and for many other Trojan parents — is more uncertain than most years.

Though the Coliseum is, as of now, off-limits, each USC player was allocated four tickets for the team’s trip to Tucson, Ariz. for game two, another come-from-behind Trojan victory. 

Shelby McCoy noticed that before that game, when each player ran out of the tunnel, they immediately looked toward their parents, sitting among the group of about 200 socially distanced family members behind one of the end zones.

“That really touched me,” Shelby said. “I thought, ‘It’s so important to them for us to be there.’”

Shelby and Horace McCoy attended USC’s road matchup against Arizona in Week 2, likely the only game they’ll attend this season. (Photo courtesy of Shelby McCoy)

But Utah the following week was a no-go, and USC’s next two games are in L.A. County. As for a potential Pac-12 Championship Game and subsequent bowl game — who knows? 

Horace said that with the way coronavirus numbers are spiking across the country and in Southern California, he and Shelby are expecting that the Arizona game will be the only one they attend all season. 

“Just be blessed and happy that we were allowed to attend that, you know?” Horace said. “There’s people in much, much worse situations than us not being able to attend our son’s game.”

And Max Slovis emphasized that whatever his attendance looks like this year and however complicated the travel logistics might be, he’s keeping things in perspective. 

“You know what? In reality, I’m just so happy that he’s playing football again. I’m so happy the boys have a chance to play,” Max said. “If I don’t get to go to games or miss some games, it’s really a minor thing to give up in the big scheme of things and what’s going on in our world right now.”