Q & A with Mike Pollak

LOS ANGELES – Accountability. Leadership. These words aren't just clichés for Sun Devils' center Mike Pollak, but virtues that he takes very seriously and tries to exude every day on every snap. Devils Digest sat down with the senior during Pac-10 media day to discuss those issues and more.

Devils Digest: You must have mixed emotions being a senior. Excited for the season on one hand, but knowing that everything you'll do this year will be the last time you do it…

Mike Pollak: "Me and Brandon Rodd were laughing about it a few days ago, that this is our last week of summer conditioning ever. We'll look back at it and remember all the good times, but we're going into this season doing everything we can so we don't have regrets. We don't want to finish our career here and say ‘we should have worked harder in camp.' This senior class doesn't want to go out like that."

DD: Is it even more rewarding for you that you get to play your final season at your hometown college, with your family watching you for eight games at Sun Devil stadium?

MP: "I love that my parents are at every single home game I play in. My dad goes to all the road games too. It's a joy to play in the town I grew up in, playing in front of so many family and friends. They say it's surreal for them to watch me go on the field, getting to play at the school my mom and uncles graduated from. It's a lot of fun."

DD: As someone who grew up just a ten-minute drive from ASU you obviously knew a lot about the program as a recruit and as a fan. But what was the first thing that really hit you by surprise when you actually became a Sun Devil?

MP: "Just the time that you have to put in as a Division I player. I remember my first year coming back from practice to my dorm thinking ‘this never stops – it's everyday, all day (smile).' I obviously understand now that that's the way it needs to be for a program to be an elite program. But back then it was my wake-up call for Division I football."

DD: When you look back at your redshirt freshman season, when you replaced Drew Hodgdon (due to injury) at center for eight games, how pivotal was that experience to making you the player you are now?

MP: "That helped so much. Not just learning from guys like Drew Hodgdon and Grayling Love, but also to be thrown into the mix right away…there was no grace period. I had to learn right fast. That really has helped me with preparation for games and my confidence. I was going against guys who now play in the NFL. Playing so early also really helped my knowledge of the game."

DD: What about in terms of leadership. Did that experience help you establish that necessary credibility a leader needs?

MP: "It did help me, especially last year when older guys were getting hurt and younger guys were replacing them. I could really relate to that from my experience, and I pulled them aside and told them ‘I've been in this situation before and this is how I handled it.' It was good that I could relate to them."

DD: As a center, do you feel that your position is the one best suited for the leader of the offensive line? Can a guard or tackle be just as effective?

MP: "The center has to be the leader because he's making all the line calls, front calls on every snap…making sure everyone is on the same page. We do have good leaders right now on the line like Zach Krula, but I do see myself as the main leader."

DD: Being a leader on this team for a few years, what does it take in your mind to be a leader?

MP: "You have to be confident to step outside your comfort zone, not being afraid to tell someone that he's not doing something the right way and showing him how to do it. The leader has to do the right thing every single time, so when you tell the younger guys that this is the way you do it, you have to make sure that they never can come back and tell you ‘well, that's not the way you do it.' You got to lead by example."

DD: The team had a leadership council last year. Are you guys gonna continue that and how will it look this year?

MP: "It's more created by the players and not coach-oriented like it was last year. It's all about the players meeting with each other. We still carry that core value of having leaders on the team, and we met a few times during the summer, and we'll meet at camp and during the season. We list issues that need to be addressed…the guys in this group can be from any class. As long as they're doing things the right way…not only talking a certain way, but also acting a certain way. Those are the guys that you want to lead the program."

DD: Without naming anybody, do you think they were guys on that council last year that maybe shouldn't have been on it because they didn't carry themselves the right way?

MP: "There were some guys last year that we're saying ‘this', but doing ‘that.' So this year we're really trying to get a group of guys that know what they stand for and do it the right way."

DD: So many people talk about Coach Erickson's scheme which spreads offenses and puts a lot of emphasis on the passing game. But he already said that this season you'll run the ball a lot and be more balanced. As an offensive lineman, you must like that approach…

MP: "A couple years ago, the scheme was air attack, air attack…last year with Ryan Torain, Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance we ran a lot. With our running attack it makes our program that much more efficient on offense, because it will open up the passing game and not show defenses just one look…I like run blocking more, because in pass blocking you're waiting for the defense to come to you. In run blocking you're just going and attacking them."

DD: What was the team's mindset after spring practice and going into the summer workouts?

MP: "Our team morale was at an all-time high. We came out of spring ball with barely any injuries, compared to the past. We do understand that there's still a lot of work to be done and we're not content with how we finished spring ball. But we did carry that to how we prepared this summer, and we'll carry to the summer to how we'll practice at Camp T."

DD: How have the young players on the team looked during workouts?

MP: "They all are very impressive and seem very coachable and wanting to do well. You hope one of the freshman offensive linemen doesn't have to play right away, but with our history of injuries that just may happen. We'll see."

DD: What are your thoughts being ranked 4th in the media poll?

MP: "Usually media polls mean nothing to me, because it's just some person's opinion. Those people aren't on our team and don't know how we are day in and day out. But after what we went through last year, and having a new coaching staff, and people still think we'll do pretty well…that shows a high regard for Coach Erickson, what he has done, and what he will do…I try to harp on the guys not to pay attention to pre-season stuff. We had years where we were in the top three and didn't perform like that on Saturdays. If we just worry about coming everyday to practice and working hard, we'll have a good outcome."

DD: With ten returning players on offense, do you feel that this side of the ball is coming in with more swagger and confidence than years past?

MP: "It definitely helps having the same group as last year, knowing what we can do and what we need to improve on. We're all there for each other and we want to well. The biggest difference on the offensive line from last year is having Zach Krula back – having him will benefit the team tremendously."

DD: From an X's and O's standpoint, how different will the offensive line look from last year?

MP: "We have new running schemes this year. Of course the shot gun is new to us, but for me as a center it isn't a big adjustment. I'd like to think of myself as a quick learner, and I‘m sure the rest of the guys will pick up things fast too. I had a couple of bad snaps in spring ball, and I'll work to eliminate those in fall camp."

DD: How do you handle expectations this year? Do you try to temper them, even though the coaching staff wants you to be more upbeat and have a swagger?

MP: "We do have a group of guys where the swagger drives them during games. And then some guys on the team, usually the linemen, who just want to go out there and grind on Saturdays. The guys that grind won't talk trash during games, but when that ball is snapped they're going full bore. A mixture of both those types of players defines our team and will lead us to success this year."

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