So, how are things going? Adjusting well?
"Just getting used to college life, but it's fun, though, that's for sure. You have to get used to having such busy days. Normally, during school, I mean, you can kind of just slack off. But here, here you've got tutoring, you've got class, you've got meetings, you've got workouts every day and then at the end of the day you've got to be in your playbook. I'm trying to start, so I've got to be in my playbook and I've got to be into my studies and stuff. It's busy."
How is the playbook part of it going for you? Pretty big adjustment there …
"Good, actually. I'm catching up really fast. I'm actually helping out the coaches, you know, just trying to make it easier for the rest of the freshmen d-linemen to learn the stunts, and just staying in my playbook, learning it pretty fast."
How are you helping in that regard?
"I make charts, based on what every person has to do on certain plays. I just write it down, everything they have to do for all the stunts, and it just breaks it down easier. It makes it easier for us to understand."
Some of that terminology flying at you right off the bat can get to you …
"Yeah. But if you group them all together it's a lot easier. It helps just cement it in your head. If you have a group that you know that you do this, and all those names, it just, I don't know, when you group all those names together it makes it easier."
Is that something you did in the past, how you learned?
"That's how I did it in high school. Just like certain packages, certain blitzes, I did a certain thing. A lot of them I had C-gap contain or I had a spike or something else, so, you know, I just grouped them together -- these are the ones I have a spike, these are the ones I have outside contain, these are the ones I do this and this … "
That only part of the equation, though. Physically, you feel ready to be lining up against a 300-pounder here and here and here?
"Well, I feel ready. Going to the U.S. Army game was an experience. It helped me realize what college was going to be like because those are the best players in the nation and they're all 6-foot-6 and 320. I succeeded there and I had great practices, I had a great game, so I feel like I'm more than ready and I've gotten a lot bigger and a lot faster since the Army game. I'm feeling more than ready to come in and make an impact on the team."
You have put on, what, about 15 pounds since the end of your senior season?
"As soon as I was done with the Army game I went straight to the weight room and I just followed the workouts that they gave us. You know, I ran and then I just worked out, and did everything they told me to and a little bit extra and just tried to fit as much physical training into a day as I could and still stay healthy and not over-train."
Put some numbers on that for me … You were 270 or so …
"Yeah, I was probably like 267. I weighed in at the Army game at 270, so I guess 270. Then I got here and weighed in at 285. Just slowly but surely I'm gaining a little bit of weight at a time. My goal was to come in at least at 285 and then, you know, come here and get a little bit bigger maybe … five, 10 more pounds."
So by August, it's coming up pretty quick, but …
"Seven pounds, to be 292, would be great … 292, 295 is my goal for weight."
Strength-wise, did your numbers go up a lot as well?
"Oh, yeah. Power clean shot out the roof. The last workout I did for hang clean, I hang cleaned 340 (pounds) twice and that was after all my other sets of hang cleaning. Squats have gone out the roof. Bench is improving. That's one thing I really have to improve on, so I've been doing a lot of extra work with bench. Me and Kody Innes, after the workouts, we do out burnout sets and just try to get bigger and stronger."
So, since the end of the season … what was the squat number, what was the bench number, compared to what you're doing now?
"Probably when I finished high school, my power clean was maybe like 310, probably. And now, it's around 340. My squat, maybe like 470, and now, hopefully, I'll be squatting like 515, 525. And bench, bench was my worst. I was around 300 at the end of the season. Now, I'll probably bench like 340, 345, hopefully, 350. That would be my ideal goal for bench press. There has been a lot of improvement in the off-season."
Nice when you can focus on it more …
"Yeah. There' nothing else. I mean, school, but there's no other distraction. I was just real focused on my football. I got a lot faster, too. My 40 went down significantly. I started dunking."
Really … Is that something you couldn't do before?
"I could not dunk before, no."
Could you come close?
"I could obviously touch rim and, you know, jump. Like, I could make good shots. But I definitely couldn't bash, so …
So what did that feel like?
"It was fun. I was with my dad and my brother. My brother, he's got like a 40-inch vertical and he's like 6-1, runs a 4.2. He's a really good athlete, goes to Utah State. He can dunk with ease. He was doing all these dunks and my dad was telling him how to do stuff and I got a little pissed off and I just went up and bashed. It was tight. It was cool because I was with my dad and my brother, people you like to impress. It was cool. It was fun. It felt good to finally accomplish that."
To be able to get off the ground like that, that explosion, says a lot about the overall improvement …
"Yeah. I haven't tested on my vertical yet, but I'm sure that's gone up significantly. Power cleans, that really helps with my explosion off the ground."
So, physically, I'm thinking you don't have a lot of doubt about playing as a freshman …
"No, I really don't. I mean, the only thing that I struggle with is bench press and I'm working my hardest to get that up. Physically, I feel like I can dominate anyone who is in front of me. I don't have a question physically, and as long as I learn the playbook, I feel like I'll be able to come in and be in the rotation and hopefully start."
Where are you with the technique?
"As far as technique goes, I had really good coaches (at Oaks Christian). Clay Matthews Jr. was our defensive coordinator. He is a 19-year veteran. My last year, we had great coaches. My techniques improved a lot. That's something I take pride in. I think that you can't be a great college defensive lineman without great technique. I mean, you can be as talented as you want to, but if you don't know how to play the position, it means nothing."
Is that something that it took a while to really grasp?
"Yeah, I think not until the end of my junior year, beginning of my senior year. They really just started to really work on my techniques and tell me that was the most important thing. When you get to college, everybody is blessed and everybody is big and strong, some more than others, but technique is what makes a great player."
To you, what else goes into that, being able to play such a difficult position as a true freshman?
"I think it's just, coming in as a freshman, you're playing against grown men. They've got time ahead of you in the weight room, time ahead of you in the playbooks. So, when you're a freshman, if you're not coming in focused, if you're not coming in determined and ready to play as a freshman, then you're not going to play as a freshman. You have to have the mindset that you're going to start, that you're going to play. You have to be completely and utterly focused on football and getting your spot. You have to stay in the playbook – if you don't know the plays then you can't do anything."
Does it make it any different knowing that they really need you to be able to play? There must be a fine line in there somewhere between you wanting to play and them needing you to play …
"As far as them needing me to play, this is my team and I love all my teammates. Everybody is really cool, really supportive. I'll do anything for my team. If I wasn't ready, I'd still play. But the fact that they need me to play makes me more determined to be ready, because I want to win games. I don't like losing. Coming from Oaks Christian, losing is the end of the world for me. UCLA can be a great program, and I feel like with our class coming in, we're all determined to win. We're not OK with losing. Me coming in and being ready to play is huge for me because I want to win games, I want to help out my team."
In the workouts to this point, is there anybody in this class that made you stop and think … wow?
"Kody Innes surprised me. He is a strong guy and he works really hard. I like working out with him because he's just as determined as I am."
I was reading some of the recruiting stuff on you going into your senior year and there was a thing in there about your motor, your intensity …
"Well, some guys, you know, they might slack a little bit. My senior year … you know, my dad, he used to make fun of me, said I had the best seat in the house, because I'd be watching the plays. That pissed me off. So, my senior year I promised myself I would play hard on every play and that's just what a motor is, to be able to keep going and keep going, and just run after the ball and make plays when no one expects you to make plays. Keep going and work, just be a workhorse on the field."
So that might have been a little bit of an issue when you were a sophomore or a junior?
"I think that's an issue with anyone when they're younger, because they don't realize how many more plays they could be making if they just chase the ball down or if they just go hard on every snap. That's possibly one sack, or one TFL missed."
And going into your senior year, you just made that commitment to yourself …
"I didn't want to hear my dad talk any more trash …"
The whole recruiting thing, less than a month before signing day you were still an LSU guy …
"I loved LSU. It was a great spot – great facilities, great coaches, everything like that. But I'm very close to my family and I like being at home. I like California. Going to the Army game, I got homesick and it made me realize that maybe going out of state wasn't the best idea no matter how great the school is, so I decided it was going to be either UCLA or USC, and Coach (Todd) Howard is a great coach and he and Coach (Rick) Neuheisel, they recruited me all the way through. They were very loyal to me and kept going and were really consistent and USC was always a question for me. I don't know, I had questions with the coaching changes and the sanctions on the way, so UCLA was the team. I saw a lot of potential in our recruiting class and guys talking about going there together and it just happened."