LV "For me personally, I think it came in the 2nd half of the Cal game. We were behind the whole game and then we started running the rock. After that everything was consistent and we started playing together."
NK "That sounds about right. Earlier in the year we had a drive in the Auburn game that felt good and then in the Colorado game we felt good for the most part. Kansas State was obviously a dropoff. Oregon State we won by a good number but we didn't play as well. Finally I think in that Cal game is when it came together and stayed together. We had played that well before as a unit but it just hadn't been consistent. In that Cal game when we were down by those 18 points, I was actually just watching that game yesterday, that's when it came together and really felt good."
What do you think were the biggest factors to getting over that hurdle?
LV "I think it was basically trust. You know, trust amongst us and trust amongst the coaches. In the years before they didn't trust in us to run the rock. In that game we were down by 18 and we could have easily aired it out…"
ET "…but we stuck with the run…"
LV "…exactly, we pounded it out and ended up getting a victory. We all trusted each other this year whereas in years past, I don't know about them but personally sometimes you question calls that your fellow teammates make and you can't do that when you're playing ball. You gotta make a call and everyone's got to go with it no matter if it's right or wrong."
ET "In the past it was like we would get down and the run game would be unheard of. I think it meant a lot to the offensive linemen to say "hey, we're down but we're still gonna run it." We haven't had that from the coaches since we've been here but it definitely felt like trust and we believed in ourselves after that."
Was it something that was verbalized where the coaches told you they were going to stick with the run?
NK "There was nothing said but we could have very easily come out after that 21-3 deficit and they just start throwing the ball. Nobody would have been shocked by that. Cal had a secondary that wasn't very strong, it very well could've happened. Instead we started running the ball and gaining yards consistently. They stuck with it and gave us the confidence that they saw in us and we just went with it."
You guys saw some lows for the USC OL, a position that is filled with tradition.
NK "Offensive line is one of those positions that doesn't get very much praise or glory. It's kind of like the snapper on the PAT team, you don't hear anything about him until he messes up. At this school it's just something they expect you to do well, they expect the offensive line to do well. It just wasn't happening and that obviously was a burden put upon us. When we start doing well as a team most of the credit…"
LV "…goes to the skills players…."
NK "…that's right. We as offensive linemen, we're used to it though. We're happy with running the ball…"
NK "…and just winning…."
LV "…damn right."
Talk about the strong camaraderie of the OL.
LV "I think all the trials and tribulations early on kind of brought us together. When everyone was saying it was our fault we didn't have anyone to go to but ourselves, we were the only ones who were there to pick each other up. I think that helped us come together last year because we've felt the lows and had the fingers pointed at us but we finally said "the heck with it, let's get together and show these people" and that's what we did."
ET "We've seen the worst. When you're not going to any bowls and then you're going to the Vegas Bowl and getting blown out by Utah, well, we just took it upon ourselves to stick together and eventually it would turn around. Everybody had to believe. I believed in all these guys that we were working hard and we were going to be a unit and finally after four years of being here we put it together and had a great season."
LV "We all pretty much know what each other is going to do because we're in there all the time together. It gets pretty repetitive because everyone is saying the same thing but everyone is saying the same thing so that's good because everyone knows what's going on."
Talk about the strengths of the other guys. Eric Torres.
NK "He can play anywhere…."
LV "…his versatility…"
NK "…and also his resiliency. He came back from that shattered fibula with all those torn ligaments and now he's back starting to run again. When he comes back full strength in mid-August it will push us that much harder because we've seen how hard he's worked."
LV "He's a solid player, you know, he's a rock. You know when he's in there that everything's going to be OK. You don't have to question anything like wondering if he knows this or knows that. He knows everything. He's been there, he's done it and I trust him."
How is your rehab coming Eric?
ET "I just started running last week. I just got cleared after shattering my fibula. I've got two plates and 8 screws in there now so it's just a matter of the bone coming back together. It's coming along but I've just got to get the strength back. It doesn't hurt me right now, I mean it's sore sometimes at the end of the day when I'm walking a lot but as soon as I get the strength back I can start running and cutting. My running form is pretty horrible right now but I didn't walk for three months so it's understandable. You just have to stay positive even though it's tough sometimes. There's been days when I just thought "man, I don't want to do it" but these guys are in my ear all the time saying "you're coming back, you're gonna come back". These guys have come back from surgeries so they know. I should be ready by the middle of August. I'm hoping, I'm praying."
Talk about Norm Katnik
ET "The technician…"
LV "…the technician, for sure. He's an undersized lineman and he plays hard. He's the middle man in there so he's the one calling the shots and making sure we're going in the right direction. He's got to know it all."
ET "He's played every position here so there's never a doubt when you're next to him that he's gonna get it right. There's times when you come to the line of scrimmage and you're not sure what defense they're in but, thank God, Norm starts yelling it out and you're like "OK, cool".
NK "He's a born leader. Coming from Mater Dei which had a great program there, he just knows how to win. When you have guys who know how to win, like with some of the Poly guys and the Mater Dei guys, you find those guys are the leaders. Myself coming from Foothill, which was never very good, and Eric coming from Bishop Montgomery…"
ET "…we were horrible…"
NK "..there's just something about guys who have won and who know how to win. You just want to jump on their back and have them show you where to go. I think that's what he does for us, he shows us the way."
ET "I think he brings a little attitude to the OL too. Something about those Samoans you know, a gentleman off the field but once you get between the lines something comes out in them. It's the nastiness he brings to the field, not in a dirty way but I guess it's that Mater Dei thing. You know, it's that Pride, Poise and Courage stuff we're always hearing about, the three stripes. We love to see him out there."
NK "He's one of those guys who on the field commands respect because he knows what he's doing out there. When you have the younger guys…"
LV "…he pulls everything together…"
NK "…yeah, he's become a little bit more of a vocal guy but he's one of those guys who does what he needs to do and does what the coaches ask him to do and people respect him for that."
LV "He's playing that left tackle spot too and that's a lot of pressure. Last year he had the Heisman Trophy behind him and he went against some of the best defensive ends in the country…."
ET "…he went against Terrell Suggs and I was right next to Jake the whole day and I never saw Suggs get around the guy and he was a first rounder this year. Jake's a great guy, great player."
Talk about blocking for a Heisman winner.
NK "It's a great feeling. We did an awesome job, not to give credit to ourselves, but it was just a great feeling. To be able to snap to him, just a great feeling."
LV "Plus he was our roommate so we were around him every day. He was just like an o-lineman, we would always be hanging out at the house, playing video games, talking smack to each other."
NK "When that announcement was made we were all at 1013, that was our house, and it was kind of a surreal deal. I'm mean, it's Carson. Carson's just Carson. You don't expect your friend to win the Heisman Trophy, the most glorious trophy in college football, but he did and when he won it I was kind of taken aback."
LV "You think of Carson as the laid-back guy we always whup up on in video games (laughing). You don't think about him as no Heisman Trophy winner."
NK "When he made that speech it made it all that more real because you saw how real he was. It was a special moment for all of us."
LV "Carson went through the same thing we did only probably worse…"
NK "…he had a lot more fingers pointed at him..…"
LV "…it was just real satisfying to see him up there after all his hard work. We felt like we were up there with him."
ET "You can tell your kids you blocked for a Heisman Trophy winner and not too many people can say that."
What does Davis drill in every day as the key points for OL play at USC right now?
NK "I think the main thing is consistency, consistency, consistency. Last year there were a couple games where we won, we won pretty big and had a good rushing game, but he came in yelling at us like we had lost 40-0. He's a different kind of coach, nothing like what we've had here before. Other coaches might have come in saying "good job" but he was saying "what we did in that game we should do every single game, we shouldn't ever accept anything less". At first we thought "man, that's kind of messed up" but then we started saying "yeah, he's right. It should be like that every time. If we can do it one time, we can do it 13 times next year".
LV "It we don't go out and rush for 150-200 yards then we're just cheating ourselves, you know, he's right."
NK "That's the thing, consistency. Blocking for the run and blocking for the pass. Do that right every time."
LV "I think togetherness too. Before there were a lot of guys, especially me, who were off trying to do their own thing. Like they said, I play aggressive sometimes and I let it go out. I'd forget about everyone else and try to do my own thing. This year it felt good with everybody moving together in sequence, everybody getting after people. It was great to see Norm diving over piles and me coming right after him, it was fun man. It's fun when you see everything come together and everybody playing hard."
NK "Everybody's got each others back out there right now…"
LV "…that's what makes it so satisfying."
Talk about Coach Davis.
NK "Like I said earlier, he's very different than any coach we've ever had. He's different than what I imagine any OL coach could ever be. You always hear that the offensive coaches are the more passive, the more laid back type of guys and that's what we've had in the past. He came in with a defensive line mentality, very aggressive, very loud, very outspoken."
How did that fit with your personalities? (all three players laugh)
ET "I'm a quiet guy, very calm and it's weird to see this guy because he wants you to be like him and it's just not in my nature. He came by my house when I was injured and it was just me and my girlfriend there and afterwards my neighbor came over and wanted to know why there was all this yelling. I just said "no, that was my coach and that's his normal talk. He's not yelling, that's just his nature." The first time we met him he came to a 6:00am workout and he's fired up "yeah-yeah, rah-rah" and we were like "who is this guy?"
LV "…we're dragging ass and it was like "you need to relax, man, it's 6:00am" but he's like "come on, get fired up" and he's out there working up a sweat just talking to us."
ET "…too much energy. I don't know where he gets it from…"
LV "…that's what we need though."
NK "I don't know if I necessarily need that on game day but if I don't have it on a certain game day, he'll get you going."
Talk about the zone blocking scheme and the important elements to make it work.
NK "Zone blocking has to deal with trust. If I'm at center and Lenny's at left guard and I have a nose guard on me in the A gap, if I'm supposed to be zone stepping to the right then when I make my move to the right that nose guard is going to be crossing right over my face on his way into the backfield. The worst thing that could happen on the play would be for the center to turn back to block that guy because he's not sure if the left guard is going to be there. Where we're at now, where we'd like to think we are, is that I know Lenny's going to be there. When I step right and that nose guard crosses my face Lenny will pick him up and I'll take his guy. In actuality that would be a perfect situation and I think that's where we're at now and we just need to get everybody on that same page."
What is your favorite block that you've seen, either one from you or someone else?
NK "These guys will probably say their favorite was when I got laid out against Notre Dame last year (all three laugh)."
ET "Lenny had a good pancake, was that against Colorado.."
NK "…yeah, against Colorado on Malaefou's rushing touchdown, his 2nd touchdown that day…"
ET "…he drove that guy like ten yards…."
NK "…yeah, he took him to the right and when he tried to lean and tackle Fou Lenny put him right on his back."
LV "Me personally, I like it when Norm or E just goes over a pile to take people out. That's my personal favorite, I don't know, it just tickles my fancy. To see these 300 pounders flying in the air and then just, bamn!"
NK "There are some funny things that happen during the course of a game. Against UCLA last year I got hit on a cheap shot and I'm normally calm and collected out there but when I got back to the huddle I was mad. I was like "who did that?" and Eric says "it was Rodney Leslie" and on the next play we just got after Rodney bad, to the point that after the play he was like "what are you doing?" The next day we're watching films on the cheap shot and it turned out it was some other guy."
ET "It's fun when you get a nose guard and you're double teaming him and he's tangled up with Norm so there's a bunch of ribs wide open. I like that. I like it when guys are open and you just get a chance to clean their clock…"
LV "…yeah, that's my favorite..."
ET "…if you have to slow your guy down you just hold him up for a second and here comes Lenny. It feels good when you're blocking him and all of a sudden he's flying the other way and you're like "good job Lenny".
LV "Working together, that's o-line play."
NK "It's fun after the games when you're on the bus and you get to talk about the game. Everybody's tired and some guys are trying to sleep and then someone says "man, I killed this dude on that one play" and all of a sudden everybody just starts getting into it talking about what happened."
Who is the clown of the OL?
NK "everybody likes to make fun of me so whoever is making fun of me."
LV "Would you say Fred? Probably Fred, he likes to joke around a lot but he gets it a lot too…"
ET "..yeah, Fred but Lenny goes after it too. You used to always be in the back of the bus with Malaefou going at it."
Any clean freaks or neat freaks?
ET "I like to think I'm pretty clean…"
NK "…all of are really but there's some guys that you don't want to walk too close to their locker…"
Talk about Coach Carroll.
NK "I couldn't imagine a better fit for USC. When he came in people questioned the decision. I wasn't one to question but I didn't know who from who. As soon as he came in though the whole thing changed."
LV "It was just a whole new attitude. It seemed like he was more genuine in his want-to to get where we needed to get. He wanted to push us and demand a lot from us."
NK "That's nothing against what Coach Hackett did…"
LV "…right, right…"
NK "…you just have to look at success of the Jets to know he's a great coach but I just think Coach Carroll was a much better fit for USC and the college program."
LV "Coach Carroll is able to get his message across a little better. I think that's the biggest difference."
What was the best part about last year?
NK "The culmination, winning that Orange Bowl. I know by the end of the game Eric was on morphine but beating an Iowa team that was very good and winning the Orange Bowl to finish 11-2, that felt great. Nothing against them but we just wore em down. We were tired out there but looking across the line and seeing them when they were about to fall over, for me that was just the end. Obviously the whole season was great but the end was pretty amazing."
What has you guys excited about this year?
ET "The opportunity to be better. Nobody thinks we can be better than 11-2…"
LV "…shoot, we think we can…"
ET "…we only got one more go-around. It's not like this is our sophomore year and we can say "if we don't get it done there's always next year". This is our senior year."
NK "You always want to finish on your highest note. The seniors who left last year went out on a great note but there's one step higher and we'd love to accomplish that."