Conrad Ukropina has enjoyed the fanfare of the Rose Bowl game nearly every year of his entire existence. The Pasadena native grew up less than a mile away from the Rose Parade route and only a few minutes from the iconic venue. He always knew he would someday play inside the Rose Bowl, but he didn’t know it would be football.
"I grew up a soccer player," he said at Saturday’s Rose Bowl Game Media Day event at the LA Hotel Downtown. "The first time I ever really said I want to play on the field was when my brother had club (soccer) tournaments in the Rose Bowl."
Ukropina is back in his hometown this week but under different circumstances. He’s no longer kicking balls in the net; instead he’s putting them through the uprights for No. 5 Stanford.
The sophomore played football for Loyola High School of Los Angeles but had always put more of an emphasis on soccer. As a quarterback on the freshman team, he suffered a broken arm and was determined to stay on the field with his friends in some capacity. His soccer skills translated to kicking and he made the transition to punting and kicking.
However, it wasn’t until he attended the 2011 Rose Bowl Game between then-BCS Buster TCU and Wisconsin that Ukropina realized that football was more than just being on the field with his friends — it was a passion.
"That was really when I decided that (football) was where I wanted to end up some day," Ukropina said. "And once I started getting recruited I could really tell that I love this sport and that itâs what I want to do."
The football immersion officially began following that game. The 2011 game was the last one that Ukropina attended as a spectator because the following year he had to skip the game and the parade — the first one of his life — to play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.
Going from being a fan and really wishing and hoping that someday I could be on the field to actually making it a reality is really a dream come true.
-- Conrad Ukropina
In 2013, he attended as a player but did not see any game action. But as the Cardinal’s regular kickoff man, he will finally be able to play on the field he has always envisioned playing on.
"Going from being a fan and really wishing and hoping that someday I could be on the field to actually making it a reality is really a dream come true," he said.
Ukropina understands the tradition of the Rose Bowl unlike any other. He describes Pasadena as a "special place" and feels that the venue and all of the games it hosts are part of its identity.
He has patiently watched several teams make history in the Rose Bowl throughout his life. This week, he’s hoping it’s Stanford’s turn.