Rodney Van will be a true sophomore cornerback next fall, listed at 6-1 and now 180 pounds. Van came to UCLA as a highly-touted talent from Long Beach Poly High.
What are your goals for winter practice?
"In these three weeks, I just want to get better. I know it sounds simple, but that's all it comes down to for me. I need to work on a few things, like peaking in the backfield, working on my hips, getting my hips more flexible. Hopefully I'll come out with the starting job going into fall camp."
Have they indicated to you at all about your status, whether you're in line for that starting position?
"Right now, no, they haven't told us anything. They've said everyone is on a level playing field. Anybody can come take it. Certain people are in the first position right now, but they've said that has no real bearing on who will start or anything."
Who's in the first positions right now?
It's left corner position that's open, right?
"Technically both of them are open. We all play either one, so whoever fits best, whoever plays better on which side, will get it. But technically it's the left corner since that's the one Matt Clark left open."
Where do you feel most comfortable? Which side?
"I think I feel more comfortable on the left side. It's my more natural position. My hips already feel more comfortable there, just more natural. I already feel I could play at this level from the left side."
What kind of improvement have you made, physically and in knowing the position, from when you first arrived at UCLA?
"Knowing the position, I came in knowing nothing, obviously. It doesn't take me long to learn, though, so I'm getting to the level where I'm starting to help out coaches with certain things. I pretty much know our defense. We just put in some new things so that's a little bit of a challenge. Physically, I've improved a lot. I brought my weight up from 166 when I came in here to 180 right now. I'm 180 to 182, around that area. And all weight room stats are up miles from when I came in."
How much are you benching now?
"Right now, 285. I came in benching 185. As soon as I came in and started doing weight room it boosted it everything up."
Did you lose some of the strength during the season?
"Yeah, because we don't lift as hard during the season. We lift, but not as much. The strength wasn't there, and I was pushed around a little bit on the field. But I've gotten my strength back and I'm getting stronger every day, putting on more weight."
What's your ideal weight?
"For the season it'd be 185. Because then I know I could then put my head in there on tackles and jam receivers. We're trying to play a little different scheme this year."
A more physical scheme? In what way?
"I think we're going to more of a man scheme. It will help to stop the run, obviously. We had run problems last year, so we're trying to solve that. So I have to bulk up a little bit to press receivers, because we want to play press more than off now."
What did the experience you got last season do for you?
"Last year any playing time I got helped me tremendously. It certain will help me coming into this season. I'm not nervous about anything. If I had to take the reins to start, or whatever reins I have to, whatever responsibility there is, I'm not nervous about anaything. I could go out there and do it, no problem."
And the experience helped with that?
"The biggest game where I benefitted the most was the Cal game, when I gave up that play. I continued to play the rest of the game, stuck it out. I learned you have to have a short memory and continue to play. It made me learn that. As a corner, you have to have a tough heart and just continue to play."
Coming from high school, many say the biggest transition is the speed of the game. Is that your experience also?
"For me, not as much, because I do possess speed. I would say the mental part
of the game. Being mentally ready. You have to be mentally ready on every play.
You can't have a mental lapse out here at all. Otherwise you're beat and sitting
on the bench."