LOUISVILLE — For the family of Will Stein, a former walk-on who now is starting quarterback for the University of Louisville, Saturday's game at Kentucky will be surreal.
Parents Matt and Debbie Stein both graduated from UK and earned post-graduate degrees from U of L.
Like Will, Matt went from a college walk-on to scholarship player, but at UK.
Will, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior, says he grew up "a big UK fan."
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"So this is definitely special to me, going back to Commonwealth (Stadium). I spent a lot of games there," he said. "I still know I was in section 128, row 13. ... Obviously, now I'm not 'for them' at all."
A young Will also participated in Tubby Smith basketball camps at UK.
The Stein family not only maintains season tickets to UK football, but also basketball. Debbie is a rabid Wildcats basketball fan.
Will's next-youngest brother, Nathan, will attend UK next year.
The Stein house decor includes the Herald-Leader life-size poster of basketball star DeMarcus Cousins.
However, Matt says that "blood is thicker than water," so he's first and foremost a U of L football fan now.
Like his son, Matt played high school ball for Trinity.
A linebacker in high school, he played defensive end for UK in Coach Jerry Claiborne's wide tackle six.
"But it wasn't what you would consider today's defensive ends," said Matt, who stood 6 feet, 205 pounds in cleats. "It was more like an outside linebacker-slash-strong safety hybrid."
Matt was on the last UK team to beat Tennessee in 1984.
Will joked Monday that his dad pulls for Tennessee to beat UK in order to maintain that distinction.
No, Matt said, he doesn't pull for Tennessee. However, he does take pride in having been on a UK team that not only won, but won at Knoxville.
William, as Matt calls his son, played wide receiver and quarterback while winning three state titles in a row with Trinity. As starting quarterback his senior year, he completed 70.8 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,697 yards and a school-record 54 touchdowns.
Because of his small-for-quarterback size, he was not highly recruited.
Matt contacted several college coaches, including one of his former college teammates — Joker Phillips.
The UK coach said during his Monday news conference that Will was offered a chance to walk on.
That's not what the Steins recall but, Matt said, "I'm not disagreeing with Joker if that's the way he remembers it. ... I'm one of his biggest fans. I think he's awesome."
Matt said that possibly Phillips was mistaking Will for another of Matt's football-playing sons, Matthew, who wound up at Mount St. Joseph's.
Will had some direct connections to U of L through Trinity. His teammates included the son of then-U of L coach Steve Kragthorpe. Will also was influenced by Trinity-to-U of L success stories Brian, Greg and Jeff Brohm.
"So I never actually tried to walk on (at UK). It was a thought," Will Stein said, "but coming here, just being familiar with Coach Kragthorpe and all those guys, it made it really an easy decision."
The walk-on got two starts as a freshman, then appeared in two games last year, when he threw his first collegiate touchdown pass.
Now, he's the man. He has thrown for two touchdowns in each of the first two games.
"He's become a really good player for those guys," Phillips said. "Does a good job of pulling the ball down and running it. ... His height definitely hasn't been a factor. All he's done is gone out there and competed and competed at a high level."
Stein went 17-for-32, good for 226 yards in a season-opening 21-9 victory over Murray State.
Last week, in a 24-17 loss to Florida International, he was 30-for-43, for 349 yards. He threw one interception and was sacked six times.
"He's made some plays and he's able to get outside and make the throws, and find the open receivers," Louisville Coach Charlie Strong said. "But the thing we have to do is we have to do a better job of protecting him. ... Because if he has enough time, he's going to find open guys."
Will remembers attending UK-U of L games. He never imagined he'd one day be playing for U of L.
"This has been a blessing for me," he said. "Just the opportunity that I have now, to be in my hometown and leading the Cardinals in Commonwealth. It's a dream come true."
Matt, who has had to miss UK games in recent years in order to watch his sons, said that although Saturday's game is "a big game for all the fans, this is a gigantic game for the Stein family. It's freaking unbelievable.
"When I walk into Commonwealth, it's really going to hit me. And when I see him out on the field, it's just going to hit me — be pretty special, I think. ... I'm usually pretty good about visualizing things, but that one hasn't been able to come up on my screen inside my head yet."
Perhaps, Will has a clearer vision, one that has taken years to develop.
"It's something that I've grown up with, and I know what it means to win in this rivalry," he said. "It's a big game, a big momentum game for us.
"If we go in there, and we do what we can do, and we win, I think this will catapult us for the rest of the season."