C.J. Niusulu, the sophomore defensive tackle, has been through quite a bit. He settled his case in which he was charged with battery assault stemming from a fight last July.
Even though it's your first spring practice, is there a different feeling to the team this year?
"Yeah. Whenever there's a change, there's always a better feeling. I don't know how to explain it. It has made us all have a better feeling about the team, and we're all working harder. We're all getting pushed to the limit, and we're all accepting it, and everyone is pushing it ourselves. It's a good thing. We all like it. There might be some that won't be able to handle it, but I think everyone has welcomed it."
How did you react to the rigorous off-season workouts?
"I took the punishment. I died out a couple of times, but I still hung in. There were times when I thought I was going to die. But I knew I had to hang in there."
How are the injuries you suffered last year?
"I had a torn miniscus, and then appendicitis. The appendicitis didn't affect me much, but the knee did. But with all the rehab it's strengthened it. I don't even think about it at all anymore."
Are you in good shape?
"Pretty good. I could get in better shape. There's always room for improvement. It's the college level, man, this isn't high school anymore. Everyone is pretty good. So you have to do more to prepare physically."
How do you see yourself contributing next season?
"I just want to continue the d-line reputation that is here at UCLA. That idea that nothing passes through the d-line. I want to just bring the defense back to being on top. And that will help our offense."
Personally what's it mean to you that you know you'll be able to play next season?
"It means a lot. I can't even begin to explain. I don't want to get into it too much, but I went through some rough times, but I pulled through. I've gotten a lot of support from the players and coaches, and I'm really thankful for that. We're all like brothers now. We've all come together. It's different. You can tell the difference from last year's team to this year's team, with the same guys. You can see the difference."
You're projected to be a backup defensive tackle next year. But I assume you'd want to start, of course...
"The best guy will play. I'm hoping to start, but I think they'll need everyone to contribute. I know if I play well, I'll play."
In the role of second string for the d-line, how do you keep yourself prepared to play?
"I don't ever think about it that much. I'm just ready. It's like, when you come into the stadium and you see the crowd, it changes your whole feeling. You don't think about how many plays you're going to get. You just think, ‘Hey, this is football and I'm ready to get out there.'
When you take the field at the Rose Bowl next year, will you savor it more, knowing you might not have been able to play?
"I definitely will. I think every game will mean more to me. I'll value it. I definitely value the opportunity to play football more. And I'll think about that every game."
How good can this defense be?
‘I think we're pretty good. I think we need to take it a game at a time, and focus on coming out and crushing people every game. I don't want to say too much on how good we are, but I think we're going to be pretty good."