STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -The last time Tavita Pritchard started a football game, there were several thousand fans in the seats and a high school defense on the other side of the field.
The scenario will be a little different Saturday. Pritchard makes his first college start at quarterback for Stanford in one of the toughest environments imaginable: in front of close to 90,000 people in the storied L.A. Coliseum against a Southern California defense filled with future NFL players.
Welcome to the Pac-10, kid.
``I think it's a little bit surreal right now,'' Pritchard said. ``Everybody is asking me, 'Are you nervous? You're going to the Coliseum. You're starting.' I don't know if it has settled in, but there is so much to be thinking about other than we're going into the Coliseum to play SC.''
Pritchard, who has thrown only three passes in college, was put into this hornet's nest after starter T.C. Ostrander had a seizure last Sunday that has forced him to miss this game for the Cardinal (0-4, 0-3 Pac-10).
That forced Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh to turn to the untested Pritchard to try to take down the mighty second-ranked Trojans (4-0, 2-0). After getting outscored 141-51 in their first three conference games at home, the Cardinal play their first road game against the Pac-10's best team.
``From the outside in, it looks like a recipe for disaster,'' Stanford receiver Evan Moore said. ``You lose your senior quarterback captain and you go into the Coliseum to play USC with a quarterback who has never started before and has probably played a number of snaps that I can count on my left hand. But not to discount T.C.'s talent and leadership at all, I think we have enough leaders at other positions on offense that I think we're going to be all right.''
The odds are daunting as Stanford is a 40-point underdog, one of the biggest lines ever for a Pac-10 game. But the moment is one Pritchard has been preparing for ever since he was a young kid pretending he was his Uncle Jack, former NFL quarterback Jack Thompson, aka ``The Throwin' Samoan.''
Thompson was one of the great quarterbacks in Pac-10 history, ending his career at Washington State as the NCAA's career passing leader with 7,818 yards. He was the third overall pick in the 1979 NFL draft by Cincinnati.
Thompson played six years in the NFL for the Bengals and Tampa Bay before returning home to the Seattle area. While growing up, Pritchard would take the short trip from Tacoma to visit his uncle, toss the football and learn lessons about being a topflight quarterback.
Pritchard also learned from his father, David, who played center at Washington State, and his older cousin Tony, Jack's son who is currently a Cougar.
``If ever a kid was spoon fed football it's Tavita,'' Thompson said in a phone interview. ``His father and I have been like brothers. David has really done the vast majority of that. I came around later. You never had to tell Tavita to call. He called me all the time. He was thirsting for the knowledge. He always wanted to learn more.''
Thompson plans to watch the game on television from Pullman, Wash., after watching his son play for Washington State against Arizona State.
``I told him, 'Don't lollygag after the game. Get your butt moving,''' Thompson said.
Thompson joked that his main advice for Pritchard before he faced the conference's top-ranked defense was ``to work on his sliding technique.'' But he believes his nephew will be as well-prepared for anyone to make this start.
``Tavita is the kind of kid who welcomes the challenge. At the end of the day, that's why you opt to play in the Pac-10,'' Thompson said. ``It comes down to going out there and knowing his stuff. He has to put in the work which he'll do. He's a cool customer. He's going to have fun and soak in every second on that field.''
That's exactly the attitude Pritchard brings into this game. He wants people to see how much he enjoys the game when he's out on the field.
``I think I bring a passion for the game,'' he said. ``I love this game with all my heart. Like coach said, I was bitten by the football bug at a very young age.''
Pritchard learned his lessons well and became one of the top prep quarterbacks in Washington. He went to Stanford where he redshirted his first year and played sparingly last season. He threw one incomplete pass and also saw limited action on special teams and at receiver.
He came in this year as the backup to Ostrander and has completed one of two passes. He got his opportunity to start after Ostrander had a seizure at a restaurant while watching former teammate Trent Edwards play on television for the Buffalo Bills.
Harbaugh said he won't need to simplify the offense for Pritchard. The Cardinal will try to take advantage of Pritchard's mobility to avoid the rush from the Trojans.
Dealing with the pressure from USC and the situation will be the key for Pritchard.
``He has the right disposition for this situation,'' Ostrander said. ``His first start at the No. 1 team's home has to be nerve-racking. But he doesn't get riled up about things. Tavita is a pretty smart guy. Give him pen and paper and he knows this stuff. The best thing about this week is that he'll be getting an invaluable number of reps.''

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