Jake Brendel of the San Francisco 49ers speaks to the media during San Francisco 49ers media availability ahead of Super Bowl LVIII at Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort and Spa in Henderson, Nevada, on February 6, 2024. (Chris Unger/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES—UCLA and USC fans both have reasons to root for the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVIII Sunday.
The 49ers’ starting center Jake Brendel is a UCLA alum, while their second-string quarterback Sam Darnold is a former USC standout.
Kansas City does not have a UCLA or USC player on its active roster. Its practice squad includes Matt Dickerson, a defensive tackle from UCLA, and Keaontay Ingram, a running back from USC.
Brendel was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate as part of an offense that shared the NFL lead in touchdowns with the Miami Dolphins with 61. The 6-foot-4, 299-pound Brendel has started all 39 of San Francisco’s regular-season and playoff games since the start of the 2022 season after starting three games over his first five seasons and playing for 250 snaps on offense and 171 on special teams.
Brendel started a school-record 52 games for UCLA from 2012 to 2015, missing just the 2014 season opener due to a knee injury, and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection as a redshirt senior in 2015.
Brendel was not chosen in the 2016 draft, beginning a four-season odyssey where he was waived by the Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens while playing in 21 games, all but three as a reserve or special teams player.
Jake Brendel (64) of the San Francisco 49ers stands on the sideline during their preseason game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on August 29, 2021. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Brendel signed with the 49ers on Feb. 7, 2020, then opted out of the season on Aug. 6, the deadline to do so, due to COVID-19 concerns.
“That decision was really hard,” Brendel told the San Francisco Chronicle in December. “I fully knew that might be the end.”
Brendel said in a 2022 interview that his sister was one of the first people in the United States to get COVID-19 and she tested positive for three months. Because he was considered at high risk, he would receive his entire $350,000 salary for the season if he opted out, while if he decided to play, he ran the risk of being cut before the start of the season and earning nothing.
Brendel spent the 2020 season at a Fort Lauderdale, Florida training facility, preparing for the 2021 season.
“After the COVID opt-out, I think a lot of people thought I'd be done,” Brendel said in 2022. “But I didn’t take a day off. I stayed in the weight room and stayed out on the field, and I made sure I was in the best shape of my life coming off that year.”
Brendel played 16 of San Francisco’s 17 regular-season games and all three playoff games in 2021, playing for 81 snaps on special teams and six on offense. He became the 49ers’ starting center in 2022 following the retirement of Alex Mack.
Darnold’s career arc is the opposite of Brendel’s. He was third player chosen in the 2018 draft, started 13 games in each of his first two seasons in the league and 12 in his third, then was traded to the Carolina Panthers in 2021, starting 11 games that season.
Darnold lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield during the 2022 preseason, suffered a high ankle sprain in the final preseason game, was on injured reserve until week 10 and didn’t play until week 12. He started each of Carolina’s final six games, but was not re-signed after the Panthers chose 2021 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick in the 2023 draft.
Sam Darnold (14) of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass in the first half during a game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif., on Jan. 7, 2024. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Darnold signed as a free agent with San Francisco on March 16 and beat out Trey Lance to be the backup behind Brock Purdy.
Darnold has played in 10 regular-season games with the 49ers, starting the regular-season finale against the Los Angeles Rams, completing 28 of 46 passes for 297 yards and two touchdowns with one interception on the season. He has not played in the postseason.
“As a backup you have no idea what’s going to happen,” Darnold said last week. “Obviously, we want Brock to stay healthy and stay on the field. But if my time does come, I’m very confident in myself to be able to go out there and do my job.”
This will be the 50th Super Bowl to include a USC alumnus and 43rd to include a UCLA alumnus.
Dickerson played in 10 regular season games, making 11 tackles, and one tackle in his lone postseason appearance, the 27–24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in a divisional playoff game Jan. 21.
Ingram has not played for the Chiefs since they signed him to their practice squad Nov. 30, two days after he was released by the Arizona Cardinals, who chose him in the sixth round of the 2022 draft.
Darnold (San Clemente) is among three players on San Francisco’s roster to play high school football in Los Angeles or Orange counties, along with defensive back Deommodore Lenoir (Salesian) and offensive lineman Matt Pryor (Lakewood).
Curtis Robinson, a linebacker on the 49ers’ practice squad, is an alumnus of Mater Dei.
Kansas City cornerback Trent McDuffie played at St. John Bosco.