Senior Sitdown with Michael Okwo

The last game of the year also means this is the last week we have to interview some standout seniors at Stanford during their college careers. To help close the books an eventful season and career for Michael Owko, we asked him this week about his evolving relationship with Walt Harris, the meaning of Big Game, earning All Pac-10 honors, the state of the defense and more.

What are the challenges in playing against Cal's offense this week?

"I think the challenges are really the challenges we have faced all year as a defense - executing our defense against a sound team.  They are obviously a dynamic team, and they're going to play like they've played all year.  I think it's really more about us completing our tasks out there on the field and making sure we don't get ourselves into trouble."

Brandon Harrison commented after the Oregon State game that there were some relapses or regressions for the defense, to what had happened earlier in the year.  You had been taking steps forward prior to that.  Where do you think this defense is - taking a step back or moving forward?

"I credit a lot to Oregon State's offense.  They did some good things against our defense.  After we had made such good progress in games leading up to that, it was difficult to have that happen to us.  But they did some things pretty well.  Yeah, we made some mistakes, but they played a pretty good game themselves."

You hate to say that you have to play a perfect game, but do you guys have to play as well as you have all year on Saturday, especially in their place?

"Yeah, either that or they have to play pretty badly [smiles]."

Mike, were you surprised or happy being selected First-Team All Pac-10?

"Yeah, I really didn't see it coming.  Wopamo [Osaisai] actually called me up.  He told me, and I was really surprised and happy to hear that I was selected onto the team, as well as a great player like Wopamo.  I'm in a lot of good company on that list, and it's one thing that I can keep with me for the rest of my life.  It's a pretty cool accomplishment."

What kind of feeling will you have running out onto the field in a Stanford uniform for the last time this Saturday?  Are you a sentimental guy?

"In retrospect, I usually am.  I usually don't think so much while it's happening.  I was actually in the shower today thinking about all of the 'lasts' that have been happening for me.  You know, it's sort of tough to deal with that.  But again, we have a task ahead of us."

You grew up in Southern California but have been around here four years.  You haven't won a Big Game, and there have been a range of performances.  What does this game mean to you?

"A lot of the memories I have from college football - most of the important experiences have happened in Big Games.  I can remember individual plays that have happened to me, even my sophomore year where I didn't get things right out there on the field.  I made mistakes as a young guy.  I think those things are elevated and highlighted in a crucial game like this.  It's important not just to your team or your university, but it's also important the whole area.  I really got introduced to the heat of this rivalry my freshman year, when on The Walk to the stadium there was some pretty insane stuff going on.  Cal fans were jeering.  The Stanford fans were cheering us on.  It was definitely a really hot rivalry.  It's very important for us."

How do you feel about the direction of the program right now?

"We have some steps that we need to take obviously to regroup - to get back on the right path and a winning path.  What those steps are?  I think we have not been very good in a few areas, so we're going to have to make a lot of steps to clean that up.  I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to patch things up, and I'll be able to come back here and watch some great games."

Do you think two years is enough time for Walt Harris to turn this thing around?

"It's going to take a while.  I think that the players we have here can really make a difference.  I think they have shown some leadership quality that calls for some drastic change.  I think they can really make some great improvements for the next year and the year after that."

You had the sitdown with Walt Harris a few weeks ago, and you both said that helped lines of communication.  How do you feel about him now as the shepherd of this program differently than you felt prior to that meeting?

"What he sets out to do and what he plans on doing is much more clear to me, and that helps me feel comfortable about what he can do in the future because I know his vision and I can sit down and talk to him about it.  That gives me a lot of confidence for him and excitement that he can do the job in the future."

Do you think not enough people know his vision?  You guys know it, but is it not clear enough on the outside?

"A lot of times, people read a lot of hearsay.  Nothing is necessarily clear to the people out here unless they have the experiences that we're able to go through.  I don't know necessarily how much of gossip people take in.  If people are prone to listening to that kind of thing, there is a chance that people wouldn't really understand his vision."

Bob Bowlsby has said that he will evaluate the program and the coaching staff after the season.  If he called you into his office and asked you, 'Michael, what do you think about this coaching staff and the way things are going?' what would you tell him?

"I would tell him that they have implemented a system that has attempted to bring forth the best in us as players.  Whether or not, we have responded in the way that was optimal is really the question.  I think that this happens with any operation or with any coaching staff.  They have to make decisions about how they are going to handle their players in situations.  I think the way he chose to handle us, I understand it."

You say that you better understand him, but do you also see a better understanding from Walt Harris of players and the team after that enlightening sitdown with you?

"I think he is just remembering that sometimes we don't always understand as players what is going on.  I think the lines of communication have definitely been opened more so.  I think people have been more comfortable talking to the coaching staff, and I think that's helped."

Does that make you hopeful?

"Yeah, very much so."

You have gone through a number of different defenses, coaches and coordinators while you were here.  We talk so much about the offense, but how difficult has it been as a defensive player the last four years at Stanford because of you guys having to do something different practically every spring?

"Personally, I like the different styles of defense.  I like learning them and trying to pick them up, just for the sake of it.  That's something I just enjoy.  From that respect, I take on each system with a new fresh mind in trying to see how I can adapt to it.  I think from the standpoint of familiarity for other players, it may not be the same case.  On offense, they have had a few coaches.  That may be different for them because of the way they work together, especially the offensive line."

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