LOS ANGELES -- USC linebacker Anthony Sarao has exactly one college start to his name, but he's already somewhat of a local legend back home in suburban Atlantic City, N.J., because of where he went to school.
He's looking to add to that this weekend, when the Trojans take on Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., two hours north of Sarao's hometown in Egg Harbor Township.
"Where I'm from, nobody really makes it," Sarao said Wednesday.
"But now everybody saw me on the field Week 1, so everybody's a USC fan, supporting."
Sarao, a redshirt freshman at USC, arrived on campus last summer as a hyped four-star linebacker, then earned scout team defensive player of the year honors while redshirting the 2011 season. He started at weakside linebacker in his college debut Saturday against Hawaii and performed well, recording four tackles and an eight-yard sack.
He may or may not start against this Saturday -- depending on the health of middle linebacker Lamar Dawson -- but he figures to have a sizable role with this Trojans team this season.
And that's a big surprise to people from his hometown, he says. There isn't much of a football tradition in the South Jersey area, so his friends aren't used to Jersey natives having such immediate success in college football -- especially so far away from home.
"I went the furthest of anybody from Jersey," Sarao said. "Most of our guys go ACC, Big East, SEC. I'm the only one from Jersey to go Pac-12 since [former USC linebacker Brian Cushing]."
All the more reason for friends and family to come to MetLife to support him this weekend. Sarao's expecting to need 30-40 tickets for all of them, and he's still "on the prowl" for some of those, as players get only four per game normally.
He's hoping to secure trades with L.A.-area teammates for theirs, offering his tickets to games that his family won't be attending on the West Coast this season.
"You’ve got to hound them up and get them tickets," said Sarao, whose last name is pronounced "Sare-Oh."
Sarao heard the Coliseum public-address announcer say his last name incorrectly several times Saturday. He wasn't surprised.
"That always happens," he said. "In high school, literally, they always said it wrong. Kiff says it all crazy, too."
Trojans coach Lane Kiffin seems to alternate his pronunciations of Sarao's name. He memorably once said something like "Cesario," but he's now gotten a lot closer. It's still not right -- not that Sarao particularly minds.
As for this weekend against Syracuse, Sarao is confident he'll be able to play a role regardless of whether or not he starts the game. And, he says, he's trying to put together a team trip to Manhattan on the side, because most of his teammates have never been there before.
What are the chances Kiffin will let that happen?
"Slim to none," Sarao said, grinning. "Kiff don’t do that."