With a mix of grit and California cool, Cameron Rising seeks Rose Bowl glory

With a mix of grit and California cool, Cameron Rising seeks Rose Bowl glory

Growing up in Southern California, Cameron Rising dreamed of winning the Rose Bowl game.

Every year he’d sit down to watch his favorite bowl game and imagine what it might feel like to hoist that historic trophy.

“I just hope to find out what it feels like,” the Utah quarterback said.

The Ventura County native, who played at Newbury Park High School as a four-star recruit, recalled one of his earliest and favorite memories of watching “The Granddaddy of Them All.”

Vince Young running that touchdown in against USC — that’s one moment that stuck out to me,” Rising said.

Thanks to his own Vince Young-esque moments in which he twice defeated Pac-12 giants USC, that Rose Bowl-winning dream is alive and well again as Rising and the Pac-12 champion Utah Utes (10-3) find themselves in Pasadena for the second straight year — hoping to avoid a case of déjà vu.

Last year, the Utes blew a fourth-quarter lead during a 48-45 loss to Ohio State. While Utah couldn’t secure the result it wanted, Rising shined.

He showed off his passing efficiency with two touchdown passes, no turnovers and a 77% completion rate, and logged 92 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

Rising still carries the emotion of that day with him a year later.

“I remember seeing [Ohio State] celebrate and have the ceremony right after and seeing that after I walked off the field. … That’s been engraved in my head ever since,” he said.

This time around, Utah will face ninth-ranked Penn State (10-2) on Monday.

Though he has those lingering feelings, Rising maintains his California cool disposition and determined head space.

“I like to meditate and really just take time to breathe and just relax to make sure I remind myself I gotta be where my feet are and just take it in and not really think about all the extra stuff and just focus on being where I’m at,” the 23-year-old said.

Rising’s dual-threat talents on the field certainly help, but it’s that reflective and collected mindset that has helped him stand out.

As a junior at Newbury Park, in the chaos of a tense game, Rising exhibited that tranquility when he turned to his frazzled offensive coordinator Keith Smith and suggested he take in the full moon because it was a “beautiful sight, a perfect picture,” Smith told The Times in 2016.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising carries the ball during a win over Oregon State on Oct. 1.

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising carries the ball during a win over Oregon State on Oct. 1.

(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

A few years later, Rising’s slow-going early college experiences required patience and resolve.

His youthful fandom of Young and skill led him to begin his college career as a Longhorn, where he redshirted his freshman year in 2018 before transferring to Utah in 2019.

After being denied immediate eligibility by the NCAA when transferring, Rising sat out the 2019 season. He then suffered a season-ending injury in his only start of 2020. The following year, he lost the preseason quarterback battle, but eventually won the job three games into the season and hasn’t looked back — securing first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2021 and an honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition in 2022.

“This guy just battles,” said Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. “He’s a great leader, great vocal but very positive voice. There’s not a negative tone or anything about that in his approach. … he’s got great confidence and the entire unit draws from that confidence.”

Utah running back Micah Bernard noted Rising’s relaxed demeanor elevates the team.

“He livens up the mood. He can be very serious at times, but the way he comes off is passive,” Bernard said. “… When he talks, you listen, and that’s the type of leader that everybody wants. If you could find a guy that when he talks, when he opens his mouth, and everybody just looks at him and listens, then you have a great one and that’s what he can do.”

The praise for Rising’s tenacity and poise goes beyond his team.

ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who will call Monday’s game, celebrated Rising’s coolness, grittiness and versatility.

“I think what makes him a threat is his competitive spirit. And its ability to create when there’s pressure,” Herbstreit said. “People get to him and yet he’s slippery and he’s able to keep his eyes downfield — sometimes scrambles for first down with his legs and other times he’s able to find time and keep his vision downfield and find an open receiver.”

Of how he was able to take in his circuitous ascension, Rising found it best to not get lost in the larger narratives that have surrounded his play.

“So you just got to put your head down and go and at the end of the day, you’ll get there,” he said. “And if you don’t, and that’s just the way it is.”