It's all in the family for Rams' wide receiver Robert Woods and defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman.
The Trojan family that is...
Both Woods and Robey-Coleman have played together on the same team for the past eight years following each other from the University of Southern California to the Bills, and finally back to Los Angeles with the Rams.
"This isn't a coincidence. It's a USC connection. It's a higher power. There is something going on that has us like this right now and we just can't get away from each other," Robey-Coleman said of his and Woods' unlikely journey.
"It's a blessing to be able to compete with him for this many years," Woods said. "But as a Trojan, as a friend, it's just fun to come out here and play with him. He's been on my team for really as long as I can remember, so I love cheering for him."
The two started their journey together as roommates back at USC. As freshman football players they could often be found huddled inside their separate dorm rooms watching film on each other. In practice, the two would regularly compete against each other, matching up in the one-on-one drills.
Since their time as Trojans, they say not much has changed. Three years after they met at USC, Woods and Robey-Coleman found themselves signed to the same organization in Buffalo — their connection still unbroken.
"It's very special and I don't take it for granted. I appreciate Robert, I really do," Robey-Coleman said. "He makes me better. I know it sounds cliché to some people, but I really mean it. I have known Robert since he was 17, and so it's like 'Wow look at you, man. We're here and we're really doing it!'"
When Woods signed with the Rams back in March it seemed like the two would finally be going in separate directions. But as fate would have it, one month later Robey-Coleman received a similar call, and with it a chance to come back to Southern California and play with Woods once again.
"After they signed Robert, they signed me and I was thinking, 'Get out of here!'" Robey-Coleman recalled. "And then I remember Robert hit me up and asked me why I kept following him around, but it really was the best opportunity. It's just that connection between us and I can't stop thinking, 'Wow, we are really going to get back to it again.'"
On Saturday, Woods and Robey-Coleman will walk together through the tunnel at the place where it all began, the Coliseum. Though both players have entered the stadium as members of the visiting team, playing with Buffalo in the Coliseum last year, Saturday night will mark the first time they will play as members of the home team since they were in college.
When asked to recall their return to the stadium, Robey-Coleman expressed enthusiasm to get back to a place that means so much to both he and Woods.
"The atmosphere is crazy, the fans, the fan base is crazy. From my experience playing in the Coliseum, it was always electric — it stayed electrified and you could literally feel the crowd on the ground," Robey-Coleman said.
"I'm getting kind of antsy right now just thinking about it, but it is going to be fun though," he added with a laugh. "I can't wait to stick my cleats into the ground a little bit, get a couple of breaks, tackle some people on the turf and get used to that, the real grass stains! The grass is perfect. It's just home, it's my element, and it's my environment."
In the preseason opener against the Cowboys, Woods will run across the very field that he broke records on as a college student, on a team he grew up watching as a young boy in Carson.
"I feel like that stadium is definitely home. Just coming out of the tunnel, there's just silence," Woods said. "You hear your cleats walking through and when you hit that first corner you finally start to hear that crowd and as soon as they see you it's just a huge roar and an eruption. It's a feeling that stays with you the whole game and one I remember well."
But for Woods and Robey-Coleman, Saturday's game means much more than just returning to their home field. It represents a new chapter in their story together and an opportunity to push each other to new heights.
"Really, really game one will be it for us," Woods said. "Once we really get going and get to stand on that field where we know can make plays and Nickell can get that pick six while I can run for a touchdown — I think that's when we'll really get things going together again."
"We are going to get on the ground, we're going to work hard and we're going to make each other better for the season," Robey-Coleman agreed.
"Honestly, this is a blessing more than anything. You don't know too many players who can make it to the NFL level in the city where they went to college and you don't know too many players who can come back and play in that stadium together as part of an NFL team. That's the opportunity and we can't wait to take advantage of it as teammates and as a family."