The boy relished the old tales, drawn to the legends.
When John Gustin was a teenager, he pored over the Storm Testament series, a collection of historical novels filled with accounts of the Mormon pioneers.
The fourth book stirred his imagination. It told of Porter Rockwell, a long-haired, bearded mountain man and bodyguard for Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To be sure, Rockwell is a complicated figure of the Wild West. History remembers him as the “destroying angel.” The shotgun he carried wasn’t for show. On the other hand, he guided religious refugees across the American prairie and through mountain passes, helping them resettle along the Wasatch Front in northern Utah.
Gustin loved those Wasatch mountains, where he grew up, and so he loved the stories of Porter Rockwell. It was to his delight when he learned Rockwell had also helped the Gustin family cross the treacherous frontier in the 19th century.
So when his wife Scarlett gave birth to their second child, a blonde-haired boy, in February 1997, the couple already knew his name.
“That was never a debate,” John says.
They christened him Porter.
Two decades later, the family smiles when they mention the name. It fits. Porter Gustin, USC’s rugged, tenacious linebacker, who keys a veteran-laden defense expected to push for a College Football Playoff berth this fall, was named after a mountain man.
“Porter just seemed to fit right into the mold,” his father says.
On his trail, he’s left his own stories.
‘FEARLESS AND DARING’
Motorists must travel well past Interstate 84 to find Emmett, Idaho, a town with a population of little more than 6,000, that sits 30 miles north of Boise.
Not long after John, a former Wyoming quarterback, and Scarlett, a former BYU basketball player, married, they settled on 55 acres there to raise a family, starting with their two oldest children, Gunner and Porter, after the boys began elementary school.
To Porter, 20, it was paradise. Idaho’s rural countryside offered an expansive wilderness, hordes of animals and tranquility.
He hunted elk and pheasants. He fished for trout. He chased all sorts of critters. He plucked snakes and ducks out of the pond. He went after rabbits — when he was 8, he tried to bring one home as a pet, corralling it like a…