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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Brian Johnson

It's enough to make a Ute fan blue and cause a Cougar fanatic to see red.

Frequent conversations, mostly in the form of text messaging, between Utah's starting quarterback and a BYU wide receiver provide a twist of intrigue to the rivalry.

It's not, however, a case of double-reverse espionage.

Far from it, in fact.

Brian Johnson of the Utes and Michael Reed of the Cougars are cousins — and close ones at that.

They played high school ball together and hang out when back home in Texas.

On Saturday, their relationship will take a new turn. Johnson and Reed will play against each other for the first time as collegiate rivals — a meeting that was delayed for two years while Johnson recovered from a knee injury.

"It'll be my first chance. I'm excited," Johnson said. "I can't wait to get on the field."

After appearing on a television show Sunday night, Johnson called Reed and the two discussed this weekend's game at LaVell Edwards Stadium. They spoke for about 20 minutes.

"We talked about how crazy this week was going to be," Johnson said. "We kind of got it going — getting ready for the week."

There wasn't, he added, a lot of smack talk. It's not in either player's nature. Johnson said neither guy ever goes after the other one's throat concerning the rivalry.

"We'll talk about it. But there's nothing evil or anything like that," he noted. "We just kind of have fun with it."

They aren't alone. Their coaches from Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, Texas, are also getting involved — causing a flurry of text messages between the cousins.

"We texted each other to let each other know that our high school coaching staff will be down this weekend to watch both of us play against each other," Reed said. "It's exciting."

At the same time, however, Johnson acknowledges it's a little weird. Neither player knew much about the BYU-Utah rivalry while growing up in Texas.

"I don't think either one of us knew exactly how big this was," said Johnson, who added that it was just a weird coincidence that the players ended up at rival schools in Utah.

The intensity of the rivalry took them by surprise.

"I had no clue. Now that I've been in it for four years it's easily one of the top three rivalries in all of college football," Johnson said. "I don't think there's a rivalry in college football as unique with the proximity of the schools and the church vs. state factor. The whole deal makes it one of the best in the country."

Reed acknowledged it's a great rivalry.

"We didn't know much about it, but now we know a few more things. We know it's a big game," he said. "We know the state of Utah takes this game real seriously."

Though Johnson and Reed often speak about it, the cousin in red has yet to experience it as a player.

"I know from watching that the adrenaline for all 22 guys on the field is probably at the ultimate high," Johnson said. "I'm extremely excited. It's my fourth year in the rivalry and my first time playing. So I'm really excited, ready to go, and I can't wait to play."

Reed is well aware of Johnson's excitement, especially after missing the last two rivalry games.

"I'm very proud of him," Reed said. "He's an awesome guy. He overcomes obstacles. He's a hard worker."

The cousins have mutual respect for one another. When asked what they would say if they could send a text message just prior to kickoff Saturday, both players kept things simple.

Johnson's message: "Stay healthy."

"Good luck" was Reed's reply.

"He's a good guy, he's well-mannered and he comes from a good family," Reed continued. "I'd let him know good luck, and I'm sure he would say the same to me. May the best man win this weekend."

Monday: The setup

Tuesday: The coaches

Wednesday: The fans

Today: The players

Friday: The history

Saturday: The game

E-mail: [email protected]

Contributing: Jeff Call