Kris Reilly: “I’m a big BYU homer. I went to school there, and I wanted my kids to go there. But our heart really breaks for whoever loses. We can’t root one way or the other.”
Trevor Reilly: “Yeah, you can. Root for Utah, it’s my senior year.”
Russ Reilly: “No. I already know that on Saturday night, one of my sons is going to be loving life, one hating life. There’s nothing I can do about that and I can’t stand it. I’m not even going to the game. What am I going to wear? Where am I going to sit? What am I going to say? I think I’ll watch the game somewhere else … on TV.”
Drew Reilly: “Go with the Cougars.”
Kris: “I’ll wear a little bit of both — red and blue.”
Welcome on in to the semi-regular Reilly Family Reunion, they’re staging up, just getting their engines revved. On this particular occasion, a few days before Saturday’s BYU-Utah football game, it’s an especially lively event, a competitive, complicated, divided deal. Two of Kris and Russ Reilly’s sons will be playing for opposing sides at LaVell Edwards Stadium: Trevor is a defensive end/linebacker for the Utes, Drew a sophomore safety for the Cougars. But the divisions among family members are broader than just that.
All are gathered at the apartment of Trevor, in a cramped space — for such a large, animated crowd — on the second floor of a Salt Lake City self-storage complex that Trevor and wife, Jessica, manage.
Jessica: “I hate BYU. Utah is like family. BYU’s not for me.”
Trevor: “The reason she hates BYU is because of the arrogance and the snobbery there.”
Kris: “Easy now.”
A.J. Reilly: “I hate BYU, too. I just do.”
Russ: “You were enrolled at BYU.”
A.J.: “But I made the switch.”
Drew: “Jessica hates BYU, but the surgeon who operated on her and Trevor’s baby daughter is a BYU grad. She’s eternally indebted to us now.”
Russ: “That guy saved your daughter’s life.”
Jessica: “Yeah, I guess.”
Dinner — an assortment of delectable pastas — is baking in the oven, the aromas wafting through the room, during a pregame/pre-meal tiff over which team is worthy of the rest of the family’s rooting interest. As is the norm with the Reillys, vigorous discussion happens. Same as it ever was, babble is better than a full-on brawl.
Kris: “The boys argue about everything.”
Especially … this.
On hand, besides Russ and Kris, Trevor, Jessica, and Drew, are A.J., the oldest son; his wife, Bonnie; Ashlyn, Drew’s fiancé; and a number of grandkids, among them, 1-year-old Shayne, who has three more chemotherapy sessions remaining after a large tumor was removed from her kidney by … well, You-Know-Who.
Jessica: “When we went in for a consultation with the doctor, I was like, ‘Are you a BYU grad?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Great. Isn’t there a Utah guy around here somewhere?’”
Trevor, looking down at the wiggly, beautiful treasure curled up in his lap: “She’s going to be OK.”
Absent are Beau, the fourth of Russ and Kris’s sons, a quarterback who signed with Colorado State before going on an LDS Church mission (He returns next month and has plans to transfer. He’ll go on recruiting trips to Utah, BYU and Utah State), and Savanna, a 17-year-old daughter who remains at home. She plays three sports at the local high school in Valley Center, Calif., a small community outside of Escondido. And there is another son, Jett, who died 12 years ago at the age of 6, having fallen off a bicycle.
This family can feud over a rivalry all the day long, but perspective is firmly in place.
Trevor: “Beau will probably end up at Utah.”
Trevor: “Utah is just better. If he wants to be a great player, he should come to Utah. It’s clear.”
Drew: “You can’t deny the history. If you want to be an NFL, Heisman-winning, Super Bowl quarterback, you go to BYU.”
Trevor: “That was in the ‘80s. Now, look at the record, Utah. Look at the undefeated seasons, Utah. Look at the Utah-BYU record, Utah.”
Kris: “Everything in our family … you get a debate.”
The exchange of words was always preferred over punches. The Reilly boys were never allowed by Kris and Russ to fight — at least not with one another. The penalty for doing so was too harsh.
A.J.: “If we got in a fight with each other, we had to fight Dad.”
Russ: “Anything I caught you doing to your brothers, I’d do to you.”
Kris: “If they fought, they had to hug and kiss each other.”
Growing up in Long Beach, Calif., Russ Reilly learned sports from his father. After Russ’s own successful athletic career — he played football, basketball, baseball in high school, and later went to Utah to play basketball under Jerry Pimm. Following an LDS Church mission, Russ transferred to BYU to play under Frank Arnold. When Arnold left, after Russ met and married Kris, and went on their honeymoon to Hawaii, Russ decided to play ball at BYU-Hawaii.
Thereafter, he set up shop as a building contractor in Valley Center, and, with Kris, raised up their kids in church, school, and especially sports: football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer, and track. At one juncture, all five of the Reilly sons played junior baseball on different levels on different fields on the same day at the same complex.
A typical family activity was something called Dunkball.
Russ: “It was a mix of 2-on-2 basketball and MMA played on a trampoline we had in our side yard. It got pretty rough.”
A.J.: “Trevor got one of his teeth caught in the net one time, his eye tooth, and it pulled that tooth clean out.”
Kris: “And he kept right on playing.”
On the other side of the house, located at the corner of Wizard Way and Yellowbrick Road, off of Dorothy Lane, was an expanse of grass that served as a football/soccer/Wiffleball field, where the Reilly kids sharpened their skills.
Turned out, they were all tough, talented athletes.
In high school, A.J. led San Diego County in receiving in football and scoring in basketball. Trevor was recruited as a linebacker and tight end by schools such as Texas Tech and Utah. Drew signed as a safety at Colorado State, as did Beau, the quarterback.
Russ: “A.J. earned 13 varsity letters in high school in four sports and the others followed behind him. I hate to admit this, but I used to take them to pickup basketball games around San Diego and just drop them off, and let them play. I thought they needed to be exposed to the best competition around, even if they were strangers.”
Kris: “They took care of each other.”
Russ: “Trevor knew the second he was born on this earth that he wanted to put something on his head and hit somebody, hurt somebody. He was a football player. We knew he was different when he was 2-years-old and he came running around a corner into the kitchen, and ran straight into a breadboard that was extended out. It completely de-cleated him. He slammed his forehead into the board and hit the back of his head on the tile floor and just kind of got up, never cried, and kept on running as though it was nothing. We sat there and said: ‘What just happened?’ We knew he had a high tolerance for pain.”
That tolerance was proved again last year, when Trevor played a good portion of his junior season at Utah with a torn ligament in his knee.
A.J. was initially ticketed to go to BYU, where he wasn’t offered a scholarship, and then to Utah, where it didn’t work out, and finally, like his dad, ended up at BYU-Hawaii, where he played basketball.
Trevor was slated to go to Texas Tech for football after his mission, but was persuaded, after Mike Leach left, by A.J. to go instead to Utah, where his older brother also planned to play. Trevor stayed, A.J. left.
Drew went a different way. He started out in extreme sports, like bike racing and skateboarding and skiing.
Russ: “Daredevil stuff.”
Trevor: “He wasn’t good at anything with a ball until he was, like, 16.”
He eventually caught on, playing the same sports as A.J. and Trevor, and, ultimately, fell hard for football. Out of high school, he signed with CSU before going on an LDS mission. When he returned, he wanted to be closer to his brothers, so he transferred to BYU.
Drew: “It was the right place for me.”
Kris: “Drew was different than the other boys. He was just as focused and determined, but he had other interests. He started businesses when he was a teenager. He was an entrepreneur.”
Russ: “Drew started buying and selling iPhones, when they first came out, all over the world. He bought them at full price and then shipped them to places like Saudi Arabia and Russia and Qatar for a profit.”
Drew: “There was so much demand. It was simple economics.”
At the age of 18, Drew also went on fuel runs to Mexico, where he drove an empty tanker across the border, filled it with 400 gallons of discounted diesel, then returned to the San Diego area to sell it to farmers and contractors. He once bought a beat-up 1966 Lincoln-Continental convertible and restored it.
Drew: “It’s still appreciating.”
Russ: “But Trevor was the most cerebral. He used to read his textbooks in bed, all night long, with a flashlight.”
Kris: “He was fascinated by everything.”
Russ: “That’s weird.”
Trevor: “Well. I could take A.J. and Drew both at the same time.”
He never did, though. Trevor is the fiercest and craziest of the Reilly boys, the oddest and biggest of the bunch.
Drew: “He has a chemical imbalance in that body.”
Kris: “There are a thousand stories to tell.”
Here’s one: As a sophomore at Utah, when Drew’s Colorado State team came to play Utah State at Logan, Trevor talked to a family friend who also happened to be an assistant coach at CSU. When Trevor told him the Aggies ran similar defensive schemes under Gary Andersen that Trevor played with at Utah, the family friend invited him to the game, given that the Utes had a bye that week.
Trevor donned a Colorado State coaches’ shirt, and mentored the Rams during the game on the sideline. It may be the only time an active player for another school served in a coaching role at a different school. When a picture of Trevor appeared in a local newspaper, spotted by fellow Ute linebacker Matt Martinez, his teammate said to him: “Dude, what were you doing?”
Russ: “We don’t know if we broke any rules on that. We don’t know if it’s ever happened before.”
Only Trevor could pull that off.
Here’s another: Trevor once held the world record for eating a seven-ounce onion in the fastest time.
Russ: “He just came that way. He’d just as soon be wandering around in a loin cloth, killing animals for food.”
But, like the rest of the Reilly’s, Trevor is close to his brothers, his sister, and his parents. The whole reason he went to play football at Utah is because that’s where A.J. was headed.
A.J.: “He said, ‘Wherever you’re going, I’m going.’”
That’s the compelling part of this story: A tighter, otherwise more unified family would be hard to find. They’ve played together, prayed together, lived together, knocked teeth out together, competed together, argued together, won together, cried together, mourned together.
Russ: “My youngest son, Jett, who died in January, 2001, was better than all of them. He was a better athlete than A.J., tougher than Trevor, better looking than Drew, nicer than Beau.”
At that remark, for the first time in over an hour, in that second-story apartment atop the self-storage complex, nobody pops off, nobody argues. Everyone pauses and bobs his or her head.
The Reilly family will stand together, then, on Saturday, but will also be strangely divided. Red and blue, blue and red. What does it really matter? Mom and Dad are BYU fans, two sons are Utah fans, including one who is a Ute team captain, alongside his wife who loathes BYU, but who is forever indebted to a BYU grad, while another son plays for the Cougars.
Trevor: “We both want to win.”
Drew: “Just for us to be on the same field together is cool.”
Kris: “It’s happy, it’s heartbreaking.”
Russ: “It’s hard.”
Kris: “Go Utes. Go BYU.”
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
Utah at BYU
Saturday, 8:15 p.m.