Matt Kalil was well-versed in large rivalries playing high school football in California's Orange County. He was at Servite, an all-boys Catholic school in Anaheim, and the perennial powerhouse was Mater Dei, a coed Catholic school in Santa Ana.
The schools are separated by 12 miles of Interstate Hwy. 5. A Servite-Mater Dei game was such an attraction that Kalil's Friars twice played the Monarchs in Angels Stadium.
"We had 30,000 people at those games," Kalil said. "It helped prepare you for playing in front of bigger crowds at the next level."
The next level for Kalil was Southern Cal, where he was a redshirt with the Rose Bowl champs in 2008, then went through the NCAA investigation surrounding Reggie Bush and the sanctions that followed from 2009 through 2011.
There were those rivalry games with Notre Dame and UCLA, even if they did not mean as much as Kalil figured when he was brought in as a five-star recruit by Pete Carroll and his staff.
Now, in his rookie NFL season, Kalil is getting ready for a first taste of Vikings vs. Packers.
"I've got a feel for it, just from all the people I've met around town," Kalil said. "Vikings fans and Packers fans don't seem to like each other. It's definitely going to be fun to be part of it ... to be in Lambeau for the first time."
The Vikings equaled the worst 16-game record in franchise history -- 3-13 -- in 2011 and landed third in the draft. It was apparent for weeks that the first two picks would be quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and the Vikings would then select Kalil as a desperately needed left tackle.
Somehow, General Manager Rick Spielman convinced Cleveland to trade up to draft running back Trent Richardson, providing the Vikings with the assets to both draft Kalil fourth and to move into the first round to take Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Eleven games into his rookie season, the Vikings' enthusiasm for the 6-6 1/2, 308-pound lineman has been validated.
"Matt has been everything we expected," Spielman said. "The athletic ability clearly was there, and Jeff Davidson, our offensive line coach, worked hand and hand with Matt on the holes that he had.
"Everyone has a few of those coming out of college, and getting Matt up here to work on those with Jeff ... that had a lot to do with him being ready to compete very well from his first NFL game."
There's an interesting process with the elite prospects in any draft: For a few weeks after the college season, you hear about all their assets, followed by several weeks of hearing about their flaws.
"Yeah, by the time the draft comes, the top players have been picked apart so much that you don't want to draft anyone," Spielman said.
One of the opinions on Kalil that surfaced was that he wasn't a top-flight run blocker.
"Surprisingly, to some people, he's a very effective run blocker," Spielman said. "One reason for that is mobility. He can get to linebackers on the second level, which is important with the way people move around in today's defenses."
Asked on Wednesday about the theory he's an excellent pass blocker and so-so run blocker, Kalil said:
"I don't know where that comes from ... maybe because people said that coming out of the draft and it stuck. We have the leading rusher in the league. Adrian is getting over 100 yards a game.
"I don't know where the problem is.''
Kalil comes from a football family. His father, Frank, was a center and played in the USFL. His brother Ryan (now injured) is an offensive lineman with Carolina. That deep background in the game might have helped him reach this point without anything resembling a rookie meltdown.
"I stay pretty calm from one play to the next," Kalil said. "My dad told me years ago, 'Mistakes happen. If you don't realize that, you tend not to think clearly, and you're going to make another one.' "
Spielman said "patience" is what he sees with Kalil as a pass blocker.
"You get in trouble when you're jumping at a guy, when you're jittery," the GM said. "You don't see that with Matt. He lets the pass rush come to him.''
The Vikings let Kalil come to them at No. 4 -- and they couldn't be more satisfied.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. email@example.com