Q: This is true of most specialties, that once you have mastered a certain level of a particular discipline, the next best thing you can do to really help yourself grow is start to teach others. Have you found yourself taking the other quarterbacks under your wing, and has that helped your craft at all?
A: I think Mike Fafaul's a great quarterback, and I've tried to help him a lot these past two years, but Asiantii I've really started to work with. Last season, when we were on the field, I'd try to help him when we were doing individual stuff, and then he'd go off with the scout team and I'd be with team, but I'd always ask him how scout was going, try to help his footwork out a bit. He's going to be a good player when he gets the opportunity.
Q: Does it ever rankle a bit when people refer to you as an "athlete" rather than a quarterback?
A: I remember competing for the job my redshirt freshman year, with KP and Richard and all them, I think that's the one thing I wanted to prove. Everybody was like, "he's a runner, and then he can throw the ball" and I wanted to show that I was a throwing quarterback who could also run when he needed to. It's annoying at a certain point. I don't want to say it's stereotypical, but it's a little annoying.
Q: From your perspective, looking at Asiantii, where do you see him in his development?
A: I think he's grown a lot from day one. He didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school or something like that, so you can see some things that he can still work on. He's got a ton of upside though, and I think when you can see that upside, you can be more focused on bringing it out and turn it into reality. That's the thing with him, he has so much potential, and he needs to really work hard to bring it out. He can be a great quarterback.
Q: Do you ever think about where you would be now if you had burned your redshirt before the Oregon State game your freshman year?
A: Oh yeah, and I'm so glad I didn't. I think for a quarterback starting out fast and strong is a big thing for your confidence's sake, and I think if you get thrown in at the wrong moment, and things aren't looking too good…obviously, you don't want to listen to the noise, but there are things you want to prove to people, and if you go out there and stink it up your first two games, it's going to be hard to recover from that.
Q: One of the big things that seemed to come out of your announcement to come back is that UCLA seemed to immediately get on board with promoting you for the Heisman trophy. Was that something you talked about with the coaching staff prior to announcing your return, or was that something they told you that they wanted to have happen? Covering UCLA for a long time, that kind of advance marketing for something is pretty close to unprecedented.
A: I think it sort of helps both ways. The Heisman is not something I pray to get, but I kind of go back to what I said when I got here, which is that I wanted to bring UCLA back to national prominence. There's only one way to do it, which is win games and have people discussing the program. When you have people, and athletes like Anthony Barr and Xavier Su'a-Filo last year, you have to keep talking about them and pushing them, because not only does it help them, it helps the program itself get into that national conversation and the national consciousness. Back in the day, if you just played well, you'd get your recognition, both as a team and an individual. Now, you play well, and that's one thing, but to win the Heisman, you have to not only play well, you have to push the athlete, you have to push the program to get people's attention. It's all about the voting and getting that attention. If you play well, but you don't get anybody's attention, it's just not going to happen. That's how I feel people win those awards and accolades now, they not only play well, but their school is backing them up and putting their name out there from the earliest possible point. You see them all the time in the media and in those national conversations, so when voting time comes, all that's in the minds of the voters is them. They're sitting there and they say, "Oh, I've seen this guy everywhere, all over the Internet and T.V., he's playing well, so I'm going to vote for him." That's really how it is now, in my estimation.
Q: You've talked a little in the past about your feelings regarding college athletes getting paid in addition to scholarship funds, and for the use of their likenesses and such. When you're getting marketed for something like the Heisman, obviously you're getting a benefit from it because you're getting your name out there like you said, but the school is also getting some benefit because it can use that to build excitement and fuel ticket sales and donations. In a perfect world, what your ideal situation for how you'd be compensated for that sort of thing?
A: I've got an internship through the NCPA, which is the National Collegiate Players Association, started by Ramogi Huma, who was actually a linebacker here at UCLA. And one thing that's out there is, I think that society and the media have really pushed out the wrong image as to what it is we'd like to see in terms of changes to the system and getting paid, just because you hear a lot about players wanting houses, and cars, and stuff like that, and it's not that. It's just, the schools make billions from college football, and the players are the foundation of that machine, working 40+ hours per week. It's not like we can get a full time job, or we can get a part time job, because we're working 40+ hours per week on football, and then, on top of that, we have to compete with the students in the classroom who don't have a regimen like that. We have to wake up at 6 in the morning, finish up at 10 at night, and still compete with other students grades-wise, and still expect to pull out A's and stuff. It's hard to do that, and I don't think enough people really understand that. You get paid, as a student-athlete, $1300 or $1400 to live off campus. If you're on campus, you get absolutely nothing extra. On a full scholarship, you get a lot, don't get me wrong. But there's still $3000 or $4000 you need to cover other expenses. If you need parking on campus, that's over $300 per quarter. And that equals out to $1200 over the year. And, it's not like we just want to be on campus all the time. At least let us go to a movie or something. It's not like we want a car or a house to live off campus in. But there are certain things you want to do as a college student to enjoy life and your time in school. I mean, a lot of these students that get these scholarships are people who aren't coming from much. There's some that do, but many of them don't have parents who can help them out financially. They can't afford to give them money for shoes or clothes. We don't want to wear athletic clothes every day on campus, when we're going to class. We don't want to wear the shoes we were given at the athletic facility to work out in every day. There are things you don't want to do, because you want to feel the college experience, that you can't do because you get absolutely no money to do any of that when you're living on campus, and that goes nation-wide. When you're off campus, you get $1400 per month. Rent itself is about $1200 in Westwood, and that's for a studio. Then you have to realize that you have gas, you have groceries, and then, you still want to at least go to the movies. If you have a girl, you want to at least take her out, go grab a bite to eat. You're so limited to what you do. You do all of this for the school, and you get a lot from it, including the scholarship and certain benefits from the scholarship, like school, and meals, and dorms, but it's just not enough to live a real college life. We're not asking for freaking a new car—but that would be nice (laughs)—but I think what we're arguing for is maybe just a little bit bigger of a stipend, adding a couple of hundred dollars to the allowance. When you're making millions or billions of dollars as a member of the NCAA, I don't think, especially with the new TV contract that just came in bringing in stupid amounts of revenue, it'd be too much to give a player an extra couple hundred dollars per quarter to be able to do some of those college things, take a girl out to a movie. You don't want to drive up to a girl's house in your UCLA athletic gear and have her pay for a movie.
Q: Hey, and that might be an illegal benefit.
A: [Laughs] Exactly! And you can't even do something like that. You go to a movie, and someone says, "hey, ya'll, I've got this," you can't do it, because if you do it, you're going to be gone from school. There are so many limits to what you can do, but people don't realize that. What we do limits what we can do in the first place, because we can't get a job. And where a lot of athletes come from, financially, even though they get all of the basic stuff paid for, they still want to live and enjoy college, and they can't do that being broke. You have to have enough to go to the movies or go get a meal off campus once in a while, and I think people don't realize how hard that is for some people on scholarship.
Q: With the Heisman talk,tThe Pac-12 and the SEC were probably the two top conferences this past season—
A: The Pac-12 conference is insanely tough. I thought Utah was a great team this year, and they struggled in the league. We're out here playing Stanford, which should be the No. 1 or No. 2 defense in the country, who was a couple of plays away from being in the national title game. Utah, which might not be highly ranked, I promise you could go into plenty of other conferences and beat a lot of the competition. There's a lot of teams like that in the Pac-12 like that, where there's just so much competition that if you lose a game where you weren't supposed to lose, it's downhill from there.
Q: Exactly, and I'm asking in the context of you coming back to win the Heisman and get into the Playoffs and all that, do you think it's a completely more difficult road for a Pac-12 team and a Pac-12 quarterback to make it to those levels, considering the need to win 11 or 12 regular season games to typically be in contention for either?
A: Yeah, I think it's a lot more difficult. And this is no discredit to the ACC, or any other league, but in the Pac-12, it's every week that you're playing solid competition that you could lose to if you don't play your best. And it's the same thing in the SEC, where a team like Auburn, which is in the national title game this year, could go 3-9 last year because the rest of that league is so good. There are just so many teams in this league that may not be thought of as that great in the national conversation, but are actually really tough, like Utah for example. In the Pac-12, you're playing a team like that every single week, so if you're not at your best, and if this week you're just not feeling good, you're going to lose. It's really hard…going undefeated in the ACC is a great thing, it's a great accomplishment to go undefeated at any point. But to do that in the SEC or the Pac-12, when you have that competition week in and week out, is damn near impossible. Alabama couldn't do it this year. Stanford couldn't do it this year. Oregon couldn't do it this year. You see Stanford lose to SC. I give so much credit to Stanford just because they're such a great team. But when you play Oregon every week, UCLA every week, Utah every week, USC every week, teams like that, you see that Utah beat Stanford, we beat Utah, Utah lost to USC, USC beat Stanford, Stanford beat Oregon, it goes all these different ways. We beat U of A, then lost to Oregon, and Arizona then beat Oregon badly. It really shows how easy it is to lose in this conference every week.
Q: Your first year, you guys had a couple of trip up games, losing to Oregon State and Cal. This past year, it looks like you guys kind of cleared that up, only losing to a few top ten teams in Stanford, ASU, and Oregon. Where do you see the team in terms of its progression and do you think that's a sign of things improving?
A: I hate losing man. Three losses, even to top ten teams, is terrible. It's three too many. But I think it really does show a progression. I think this year is a year where we need to show that we can win those big games against that caliber of opponent. We showed this past year that we can avoid those bad trip up games, and now we need to make the next step. We really need to cement things at UCLA, and not have slip ups where one or two things go wrong to keep us from winning big games. Everybody now is going to expect us to win the games that we're supposed to win, but now it's a matter of showing we can win games where we might come in as an underdog.
Q: You've won two straight over USC, won 19 games as a starter already. Obviously you want the Heisman, want a national championship, but what do you feel would cement your legacy as the guy who brought UCLA back to prominence? What is your kind of baseline goal for this season?
A: I think we've come a long way from where we were two or three years ago, when we were 6-8. I think, really, to win a major (New Years' Day) bowl would be a sign that the program is continuing to progress and is now part of that national conversation we've talked about. I think it'd really cement this chapter as a good one for UCLA, and if it's not me, then somebody bringing back the Heisman to the program soon would be another big one. Getting a second Heisman here is hugely important. Right now, Gary Beban is the only one, and having a second one would be truly special.
Q: From your perspective, having been here before the coaching change and now been essentially the face of the program for the last two years, what is your impression of the changes that Coach Mora and company have brought to the program?
A: It's huge. Coming from when I first got here, there was nothing UCLA out in public. Outside of Westwood, you'd never see anyone wearing UCLA gear—it was like so few people were interested in the program and where it was headed. Now, you go outside, and it's nothing but UCLA. You walk around anywhere in California, and people say "hey, you play for UCLA." It's really cool to see the transformation that's taken place not just in Westwood, but outside of Los Angeles and really throughout the entire state and country. I think that the one thing that Mora and all of the other coaches have done is grow this team into something better than I think any of us really expected when we signed our letters to come here. I think it's a combination of how much we as players wanted something different and how that vision has combined with the coaches to bring us from where we were two years ago to where we are now, top 15 in the country, and on the verge of being talked about as a preseason top 10 and one of the top teams in the country going into next year.
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