Wide receiver Junior Taylor returns after being injured on the second game of the Oklahoma game last season. He underwent surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and missed the remainder of last season.
Taylor been recovering from the surgery ever since, and is close to being cleared to play.
Junior, going into fall camp, will it be different with a 10-2 record under your belt, knowing a little more about yourselves than you did last season?
"We don't really worry about that. We go into camp and it's competition. We're all there to compete for a job. No one has a lock-down job. Every day you have to feel like you have to win your job. One day you might be up, the next you might be down, but you have to get back up again. We all have to go in there with that mindset and compete against each other to the best of our abilities."
Who do you think you'll be catching passes from as the starting quarterback?
"It doesn't matter. They both throw nice balls and I just hope to catch a lot of them."
Does that left-handed ball kind of spin away from you?
"It does spin away a little bit, but it's still a nice delivery. The righty, he throws a nice one, too. I caught passes from a lefty in high school."
How about Osaar Rasshan? Will he end up a receiver?
"He's making great strides. He's working hard, his heart's in it, and it's something he wants to do. I'm not going to knock him, you know? I'll believe in him, and if he continues to make strides, you never know."
You said you want to win a Pac-10 title. Do you believe you can?
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it. What else are we playing for? Everybody wants to win a championship, at all levels. We want the Pac-10, and that's what we're going after. I know it's going to be hard. It's going to be difficult. But it's completely possible. No one thought before last season that we'd go 10-2. So if we stay focused, stay hungry, take one game at a time, we can do it. I believe in all my teammates and the coaching staff."
Do you believe USC is the most vulnerable they've been since you've been at UCLA?
"No, I don't. It's hard to say that. Every year everyone loses somebody. You can't really say, 'Hey, they lost this guy and this guy, so this is the year.' They always re-stock. You always have guys in the background who step in. After they lost Carson Palmer, no one knew that Matt Leinart was going to come in and do what he did. So, even though they lost some guys, they're still a great team."
Do you think the program is at a point where you have to beat USC?
"Yeah. We definitely have to beat them. We have to beat everybody. But we also have to go out and beat Utah and beat Rice. And then Washington and Arizona. We have to beat those teams. But even if we beat those guys, we probably won't get respect until we beat a powerhouse. Notre Dame. USC. Even when we beat Cal last year, we didn't get respect last year. You heard, 'Oh, Cal was banged up.' 'It was luck.' It will be a great opportunity for us to go to Notre Dame, at their place. They'll be in the top five. They're favored to be in the national championship. It will be a great chance."
What does it do for your program, like when you beat Oklahoma last year, winning the big games?
"It really helps our program. For a while, we weren't winning the big games. Sometimes we didn't win the games we were supposed to win either. So, it wasn't looking good. But then last year we showed that we can win the games we're supposed to win, and the big game."
You have a new position coach in D.J. McCarthy. How has that been?
"Coach McCarthy is a great coach. He's very high energy. He loves the game. He's intense. I'm excited about going out to play for him. And the rest of the coaches are the same way. I think the defensive staff is incredible. They have these guys out there working. The linebacker coach, coach (Chuck) Bullough, I haven't seen a coach like him in a while. He's intense like Coach (Eric) Bieniemy. They're all doing great jobs."
Can you tell a difference in the style of defense already?
"Yeah. I can tell that eveyone already has a better understanding. I think there's more of a sense of everybody understanding their role. It's just no a linebacker making a check. It's a corner making a check, the safety. Everybody is accountable. It's kind of like our West Coast Offense. Everybody has to do their role to make it work right. And that's the same with the defense now."
Does it look like a different scheme?
"Yeah. They're changing up coverages. It's just not the same approach, letting teams come after us. They're going after the offense and it's so much better."
When are you anticipating you'll be cleared to play?
How do you feel right now?
"I feel great."
What percentage would you put it at?
"That's the hardest question I get asked. It's not like I look up and think, 'I feel 90% today.' I feel great today. I'm really feeling great. I push my knee every day to the max. Running, lifting. Anything I have to do to get back. I have no swelling, no pain, no aching. There's nothing. There's no kind of tendinitis. So it feels great and I'm working harder right now than what I'll probably be working in two-a-days. And that gives me more confidence. So, you can say I look great."
Has the injury made you work harder than you did before last season?
"I've never worked this hard in my life. When you get hurt like this, it's a challenge you get as a person. You hear, 'You're not going to be able to come back,' and there's going to be a lot of pain. All of that has inspired and motivated me to come back as the same player, and even a better player, just to prove everyone wrong. I went from not being able to walk, not being able to get out of bed, to back out on the field again. It just feels great. It was a long, hard re-hab. And it can really show the character of a person."
Are you confident cutting with that knee?
"Yeah. I don't feel any pain. It feels good. I'm just anxious to show everybody."
Will you be cleared for full contact in camp?
"I don't know. It's really up to coach McCarthy and Coach Dorrell. Right now the tentative plan is not to have me full contact. Do all the work, but not being tackled, at least at the beginning of camp. What's really the point of it? When we start preparing for Utah, I'll probably be cleared to be tackled then. But during camp I don't think there's any real purpose of me being tackled."
How has this been mentally, having to orient yourself for another senior year?
"It was really challenging last year. I did prepare so hard for my senior year, and then I got hurt. And I didn't know what was going to happened. I'm blessed to get my year back. Mentally it's now made me stronger. I had to do things that I never had to do before. As I said, it was a challenge just to get up and go to the bathroom on my own. I was in bed for three weeks straight and couldn't get up. I couldn't even lift my own leg an inch off the ground. Now, to work my leg back into shape, to force my leg to bend, to get all the strength back, was so mentally challenging. There were so many days, I'm not going to lie, I wanted to quit. You put in four or five hours a day for a while and nothing is happening. It gets frustrating. But then you realize it takes time and you have to stay focused and it will happen. Then things start happening and you realize it was all for the better now."
You've been through some adversity before at UCLA. This is your sixth year since graduating from high school...
"I've been through some challenges. I know how to handle adversity. I'm not afraid of it. I knew it'd be a challenge and I took it straight on, and I feel like I beat it."