You're working your way back from injury, so how have the workouts been since you've been on campus? Is it about what you expected? More? Less?
"Well, the first day I think they were just trying to introduce us (to what they do). It was agilities, then we went down to the weight room and they were teaching us technique and everything they wanted us to do. They wanted us to do the proper technique. I'm sure as we advance we'll get into heavier workouts and heavier lifts. Yesterday was pretty tough, we had a bunch of sprints and then came down and did some leg work. That was pretty tough, but it's nothing that any of us can't handle. We're all doing our best and putting in the best work that we can and hopefully that's going to pay off down the road."
You're pointing toward some testing …
"We test at the end of July. That's when our first freshman test is."
And you have no limitations from the ankle? Where are you with that now?
"I'm about like 90 percent. I'm still recovering a little bit as far as cutting and explosiveness off my right leg, but it hasn't bothered me yet. I'm just seeing the trainer and getting some therapy done. I'm icing it after practice and just continuing with the rehab process. As far as now, everything is going pretty smoothly."
Is that something where you can tell subconsciously, maybe that you're still aware that it's still not all there?
"I think before and after (workouts) the discomfort is there, so I'm aware that it's there. But during, I don't think about it and I'm just doing what I have to do, what the coaches want me to do and what I have to do to get better. During it doesn't really bother me because I'm not really thinking about it, I'm thinking about the task at hand. But before and after, like I said, the discomfort is there at points. It sort of reminds."
Is it severe, or is it like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have this … I'm like six months removed from surgery '
"It's like, ‘Wow, I can't believe this thing is still here. When is it going to stop?' But, like I said it's nothing that I can't work with. It's there and it's something that I have to work through and it not to a point where it's limiting me enough to keep me on the sidelines or on the bike with the other guys that can't participate. Right now, it's just a thing I'm going to have to deal with until it gets 100 percent better."
When you look at the way you've progressed with that, when fall camp rolls around, is the expectation that 90 percent will be 100 percent?
"That's my goal. No doubt about it. I want to be 100 percent going into camp."
On the roster right now you're a tailback …
"That's where I've been the past couple of days, at the running back spot, so we'll see what happens."
That's where you want to be, right?
"Yeah, I have no problem being there. If they say, ‘No, I want you here …' I have no problem doing that. Whatever the coaches want the coaches get."
You should have some say in that, shouldn't you?
"I should, but at the end of the day it's about where they think I'm going to be the most valuable to the team and if they think running back is where I'll be the moist helpful, then that's where I want to be."
Have you thought so far in advance to where it's, OK, I'm going to stay at running back but I might have to redshirt, or if I move someplace else I can play right away?
"I haven't really gotten into that. You know, with all the stuff that's been going on it's basically been day by day, just trying to take in everything and make sure I show up on time and get my stuff done. But I'm sure some time down the road I'll be able to think about that and discuss it with the coaches, you know, what exactly is the plan for me. Once we have that discussion I think it will be more clear as to where I'll be."
But you're looking to play your first year?
"Most definitely. Missing that whole year, I'm itching to get back on the field."
I guess having two years off would be pretty tough …
"I can't even imagine that. One year was horrible. It was terrible."
How did you deal with that?
"It was hard throughout the season. It was tough. Watching my team and knowing that I should be out there helping them, and then when they struggled and they lost, knowing that I should have been out there doing something about it. But at the same time, I was trying to keep a positive mindset, like, this is something I have to deal with. I'm going to get better and get back on my feet. It was definitely a difficult time for me and my family. But I think now that it's in the past, it's made me a stronger person."
Take me through the rehab process. I know initially you had a plate put in …
"I had surgery the day after the injury. They cut me open and stuck a plate in there and screwed those in, and then I was in a wrap, some kind if wrap, soft cast, for two weeks, and then put into a boot, and crutches for … I don't know how long. It seemed like forever. And then they took the crutches and gave me a boot, then took the boot away and gave me an ankle brace to wear and took that away and said, OK, we're going to start some therapy. I did that for a couple of months and then they went back in there and removed a screw, one of the bigger ones. They took that out, then it was more therapy. I did that throughout the season, all the way up until April and then the doctor said, OK, you don't have to do that anymore. You can start running, start working out, just be careful; do what you feel is comfortable.
"It was a long process, but like I said, I think it made me stronger. I think it made me realize how blessed I am to be in this position, to have the gifts that God has presented me with. It's just something you look back on. You remember the tough times and hopefully those tough times will lead to better times."
Through all that, are you able to take on any activity? You're still able to do some lifting and things …
"It was mostly upper body stuff. They said don't do anything with your legs – don't move your ankle, don't try to get up on your toes or anything, just do bench press and curls and some abs. That was about it. My legs got a lot weaker from that. My right leg got small because I wasn't using that at all, for God knows how long. I could do everything except lower body stuff, so my conditioning went away and so the process of building back up is that much more difficult."
So you're a little short there, too, then …
"Yeah, I'm still catching up. All the other guys, I'm sure they've been running and stuff and they've had the opportunity to be running for a couple months longer than I have. I'm still in the catch-up phase, but I'm getting there. I'm almost there."
How do you catch up with that? I mean, there are only so many hours in a day …
"You just work that much harder on the field. You run that much harder. You put in extra work when no one is watching, just to build yourself back up to be able to compete at the level that everyone else is at."
Given all that, what are your expectations going to be heading into fall camp?
"In camp I just want to prove to myself that I'm back to normal and after that, prove to everyone else that I'm back to normal and I'm the player I was before the injury. And then, hopefully, fight and battle for a starting position."
Do you think that will be difficult for you? With athletes, you know you're up there. There's a high level that you've been at. To get back and feel comfortable that you are there again, do you think it will be tough to convince yourself of that?
"I'm not sure. I just think that the harder I work the easier it will be down the road. I don't think I'll need to convince myself. I'm always going to have confidence in myself and tell myself that you're fine, you're going to do just fine, just go out there and do what you need to do. I don't think it's ever a question of, you know, questioning my ability. I always have confidence in myself, so I would never second guess."
But you would know better than anybody …
"I'm not going to fool myself, either. If I'm physically unable to do what I know I'm capable of doing, then that's a red flag and I'll have to talk to the coaches about that. But as of now, I have full confidence that I'll be back to normal."
So, it's not a stretch to think that you'll be there. Say you are 100 percent and you're doing the things that you know you can do. Where do you want to be by the fifth or sixth game of the season?
"I hope to be starting. Simple as that. I want to be on the field, right from the first kickoff."
Looking at other positions other than running back, if you were to move. What do you see as the options, the best fit?
"Oh, man. I've heard everything from safety to linebacker to defensive end to wide receiver. But I could see myself playing with my hand on the ground, defensive line, defensive end. Or, I could see myself in a back pedal, playing safety. So, like I said, I don't really mind where I play, it's just where I can help the team the most and get on the field the fastest. Both of those positions, I don't have much experience in. But I think with some work and some learning I could get those down pretty quickly."
What is the experience level, say, at safety?
"Well, I played one game at strong safety before I got injured. I played one game and a quarter and then my season was over. The previous year, I only played offense, so I don't have much experience. I played defense when I was a freshman and then a little bit when I was a sophomore and then my junior year I played offense only and then senior year I was going to play both ways and unfortunately I was injured. So I don't have much experience, but I can see the field well and I feel I could play those positions successfully."
That defensive playbook, it's not a pamphlet …
"No, it will take some time, no doubt."
Well, two months from now I can see running back, I can see safety, I can see linebacker, I can see receiver …
"It's kind of a mystery. Hopefully that's solved pretty quickly."
Four years is a long time. I'm sure you'd rather just settle in someplace and know, this is where I'm going to be …
"Ideally, yes, so I can get the plays down and get the footwork down and the technique down. But, you know, this is not an ideal world and things happen so you just have to go with the flow."
Getting back to the ankle and feeling it's 90 percent, you feel it when you're done. It's just kind of a recognition thing, it's not like, ‘Ooh, that hurt …'
"Oh, no. It's not like unbearable pain. It swells up a little bit and then it will be a little discomfort when I'm walking up Bruin Walk. But it's nothing that's going to keep me from being successful in the future."
In getting there, you know the other guys in the class, the other guys in the program. It's been a pretty slow building process here, but knowing it as you do at this point, how big of a jump can you see? This is Coach (Rick) Neuheisel's third year – always a key year for any head coach …
"Just the couple of days that I've been here with all the upperclassmen, you could see it in the work and how they carry themselves, things that they've been saying. It's time and it's their time. It's what people around this program have been waiting for, for some time now, and I think they're ready and we're ready. Our team is ready to take that next jump."
Those older guys, they take it personally …
"Definitely. Coach (Mike) Linn was just saying on the practice field the other day, if you can find a magazine that has us ranked higher than seventh or sixth in the Pac-10, bring it to me and I'll give you something nice, because he said you won't find it. Everyone has us seventh or eighth in the Pac-10. In the Pac-10 … that's crazy. We feel a little disrespected by that and we think we're much better than people give us credit for and we're excited to prove everybody wrong."