One On One With Mike Tauiliili

When he arrived in Durham, no one really expected too much of Mike Tuailiili. They didn't expect too much when he was finally inserted in the lineup. Those low expectations were soon blown out of the water as the native Texan exploded for Freshman First Team All-America honors. Now the rising sophomore is turning his attention towards a strong second season.

Last year you emerged as one of the leaders of this team, and yet there are still some talented upperclassmen on the roster. How do you balance being a leader with deferring to the upperclassmen?

Mike Tuailiili: You have to show respect to the seniors. They've obviously been through the ups and downs, and have put in their time. They are ready to cash in on all the work they've done over the last three or four years. You have to respect those guys. At the same time they understand that we're all able to be vocal and can all step up.

Last year some key members of your freshman class were forced to miss the season with injuries – what will they bring this year?

Those guys will all make the team a lot better. Having guys like Ryan Radloff, Vince Oghobaase, and Ayanga Okpokowuruk out last year hurt, but in the long run it's great for our team. They all had a chance to sit with coaches and learn the schemes, get stronger, and continue to develop. Now that they are back, we're going to be that much better.

A lot has been made of the summer strong man competition(s). Can you re-live some of the highlights?

It was just something the coaches put together to test us and to let us all bond. We had a lot of different events. For instance the linebackers and running backs had to hold 15 or 20 pound dumbbells with their arms stretched out – the guy who could do it the longest won. We pulled sleds in relay races – our team finished third because one of the freshman lineman wasn't paying attention – I don't think I'll throw him out there and name names though.

Also, the defensive and offensive linemen pushed a golf cart down the practice field – actually a freshman, Pontus Bondeson, won that event.

What are your impressions of Pontus?

He's going to be a really special player for us. He's very strong. He's also pretty funny, but you can tell he's not from around here.

Which of the freshmen are really catching your eye to this point?

I like Vincent Rey a lot. He's a middle linebacker, and I'm trying to take him under my wing and help him. I'm not worried about playing time, because in this game you are always one play away from not being able to play anymore. If I got hurt and hadn't helped him prepare, then what kind of teammate does that make me?

Leon Wright has been really good as well. He's got playmaker written all over him. Catron Gainey has also looked solid. A lot of those guys look really good so far. We put the shells on tonight and will get to knock heads a little bit, so we'll see how they do in that environment. On the offensive side of the ball I like Thaddeus Lewis a lot. He seems like he's going to be really good as well.

What was the reaction of the team when the news about Zack Asack hit?

It was rough. No one likes bad news, but we approached it as if Zack had tore a ligament or gotten injured. That could have happened in the regular season, so that's how we approached it. We turned a negative into a positive. There was a little bit of people thinking "here we go again" with the bad luck, but we all rallied together and turned that around.

How has Marcus Jones fared with the responsibilities that come with being the starting quarterback?

He's being more vocal out there. Like a middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, the quarterback is the leader of the team pretty much. Before the spring we thought that it was close between Marcus and Zack for the starting job. There was always some tension out there because the competition was always pushing them both to be as good as they could be. It brought the best out of both of them, and that benefited Marcus. He wanted to be the quarterback, and now he has gotten his wish – I think he'll do really well and he'll help Thaddeus learn the ropes like he did last year.

Every season there is always renewed optimism around the program. Do people ever doubt you when you say things will be different this season?

You know, I still catch some heat from people asking when we're finally going to turn it around and make some progress. I get it from friends, and even my family. I have learned that you can't expect anyone to respect you or your effort – you have to earn that. So I don't want to predict anything or say we're going to do something, because most people won't believe me once I walk off. But when they see the results on the scoreboard starting to come together, then they'll know weren't just talking.

What are some differences between the team's attitude this preseason compared to last year's?

Last year there were some guys who didn't have the kind of intensity we need. I'd try and get out there and really get up and hyped up, but some of the older guys were like "there goes Mike, just yelling again." There were a few guys who would try to do the same, but it just wasn't the kind of fire we needed. That's not a problem anymore. I look at it as if we've had some anchors cut away from our ship and we can now start moving and sailing in the right direction. There isn't anything like that holding us back any more. If you don't want to be here, then we don't want you here either. This year we've seen guys really happy to be out there and they've all worked hard and are in shape and ready to go. The difference, at least in the first two practices, is noticeable.

What have you worked on to improve for this season?

My speed. I broke down every linebacker who was drafted by the NFL this year. There are guys who are just as tall as I am who are playing there, and the one thing they have in common is they are very fast from sideline to sideline. The workout designed for us by the coaches really focused on that and I have noticed a difference. Last year I was fast enough to get to the ball, but this year I'll be even better. I've also lost about 10 pounds. When I got here I was 242. I am now adding back good weight and am probably around 235 pounds.

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