"I can't really think of any cons except for missing the second half of your senior year but to me it wasn't that big of a deal because I'm always trying to get ahead of the game somehow. I'm always trying to figure out some way to help myself or improve. It helped me out tremendously because when I first showed up here I was 235 and by the first camp I was up to 255 by being in the weight room all the time. Just being in there working with the guys, picking up the offense, getting used to the speed during spring ball, all if it just puts you a step ahead of the game. It gets you acclimated to school before you go through the rigors of a season. That's big because school's not easy here at USC and when you have to deal with school and being in season, with all the stuff we have going on, some guys struggle that first semester but luckily I was able to come in and get the hang of it before. It didn't used to happen very often but now it's to the point where kids are skipping their senior year. Hey, if you feel like you're comfortable enough to do it then go ahead and do it. It'll help you out in the long run I think, it sure helped me out."
You came in as a tight end. How long ago does that seem?
"Oh, it seems like a while now. When I first got here that first camp was pretty much it at tight end and then I started making the transition to the OL with the scout team and everything. It just felt natural to me. In high school during my sophomore and junior years we ran the ball a lot so I did a lot of run blocking and it was an easy transition."
How did the switch happen?
"We were a little short on the offensive line for the scout team and the coaches asked me to do it. It was something I enjoyed doing going against guys like Ennis Davis, Ryan Nielsen, Aaron Williams. You can say what you want about scout team, and some guys say it sucks, but it helped me out tremendously to be able to go up against those guys every day. I started to like it and I was putting on weight so after the season I sat down with Coach Hackett and he told me he thought I could be a pretty good left tackle so I said "let's give it a shot". Before I always had to watch what I eat and everything but now I just work out and let the rest take care of itself."
Where are you at physically right now?
"I'm real comfortable with where I'm at physically. Coach Carlisle, he runs a great program here at USC. When he first got here I was coming off shoulder surgery and my upper body wasn't very strong but now I feel like I'm as strong as I've ever been in my life. It was tough with all the surgeries because it seemed like I was doing rehab every off-season and I wasn't able to lift and get stronger. Every time it would get to the point where I felt like I could lift again it would be the start of the season. I never really got to improve my strength until last year before the season. Coach Carlisle got with me and gave me some extra shoulder stuff to do and I made it through last year healthy. I've made it through this off-season pretty healthy too so I've just got to keep it going."
You had opportunity to return to your pass catching days last season with a catch near the goal line against Notre Dame.
"It was there in the ND game but ET missed a cut on the linebacker or else it would've been a touchdown (smiling). Things happen, you know. It was fun though, I'd love to get a chance to run that play again. I'm always getting after Coach Chow trying to get him to call it again."
You also punted in high school. Any chance you'll be punting any time soon?
"No, it would be a little bit tough with the knee brace and the cleats that we wear."
What were the biggest changes last year for the offensive line?
"Consistency and the addition of Coach Davis. We were fortunate to have Coach Uperesa up in the box with Coach Davis down on the field so we were able to make adjustments like that (snaps his finger). We just played more consistently and established the running game which is something we hadn't been able to do since I've been here. When you can run the ball and keep our defense off the field, just keep them fresh so they can go around making plays, then we're going to be an exciting team to watch."
Did you hear things from former players when the OL was struggling early in your career?
"Yeah a little bit but when you're not playing well the guys don't come around as much (laughing). When you're winning you really see them a lot. Last year I was getting advice from Ron Yary, I got to meet Tony Boselli, John Michels was around almost every day. It's great having the alumni around to help us out."
What was the best part of last year?
"Winning the Orange Bowl. After that we could finally relax and sit back and realize what we accomplished. It was just such an awesome stage being out there for the Orange Bowl. It was great."
Talk about Tim Davis.
"I can't say enough about him. I've never had a relationship with a coach like the one I have with him. I can go up to his office and sit down and talk with him anytime. He's a great coach. Look at what he did at Wisconsin and look at what he's done so far here, the guy obviously knows his stuff. It's really exciting for the young guys coming in to have a coach like that to bring them along because these guys are some good athletes, we've got some good players coming in, and they've got a great coach to get them ready because after this year they're going to be thrown in the fire and they better be ready to go. He's very emotional, a very loud guy, which is fine. He knows how to motivate certain people and it brings a little bit of fire to our side of the ball. The defense has Coach O and he's always yelling and stuff, they have Coach Holt and he's pretty fired up too but you couldn't have a guy who is more fired up than our guy."
What does it take to play for him?
"You have to be able to learn and adjust to what the defense does. You need to be a heady ballplayer who can get after guys. It's just a matter of going out there and playing football for the guy. If you're a football player he's gonna love you and he's gonna do everything he can to help you improve. As long as you're out there and you're busting your ass every day and willing to do what he asks then you'll fit right in with him."
How special was it to block for a Heisman Trophy winner?
"Oh, it's something that I'll always be able to brag to my kids. There's not a lot of people who can say they not only played with a Heisman Trophy winner but who also blocked for him, it's great. Carson made things a lot easier when you've got a guy who can chuck the ball downfield like that. We're gonna miss him a lot but you've got to move on."
What are the priorities for this year with you and the team?
"This year somebody obviously has to step up at the quarterback spot but I'm not worried because someone's gonna do it. It's something that we can't worry about as an offensive line, we've just got to go out there and do our assignments. The key is gonna be just like last year to see if we can establish the running game to take the pressure off the defense and off the quarterback. We need to make the defense honor the run, if we can establish that there's no limit to where we can go."
Talk about the changes you've seen with the team since Coach Carroll arrived.
"It's night and day. You go out there and you want to work hard for the guy. He's helped us out and so we want to go out there and do whatever we can to make him look good. The things he's done so far here, you can't say enough about. It's something you can see in the way we practice. He just instills in us the want-to to go out there every day and be competitive, to push each other. It makes us better. Us facing the defensive line, that's the best guys we face and hopefully they can say the same about us. It's that way all around the field. We're prepared when we walk into any ballgame, we don't have to worry about the other team having a good RB or whatever because it's like "so what? So do we and we face him every day in practice". It should never be about the other team, it should only be about us and if we can go out and execute."
What's the best part of being a Trojan football player right now?
"Just the competitiveness. Just being out there in practice against our defense is fun because it gives you a chance to get better every day because if you're off for one second you're gonna get beat around the corner for a sack. Our defensive line puts us in situations that we won't even see in games because a lot of times the guys we're playing won't be as good as our guys."
Describe the other players on the OL.
"Lenny's a great ballplayer. I love playing next to Lenny. I missed him for part of last year but we had Eric who stepped up and did a great job. Me and Lenny have been working together now for going on three years straight and there's a lot of things that we don't even have to say between each other. I can just point something out on the defense and say "hey, look at that" and he knows what I mean. It's just a matter of working with a guy for so long. Norm has been around forever too, he's a smart ballplayer. He can sit there and recognize what a defense is gonna do. Very athletic guy. Freddy is a young kid who is learning the ropes. One thing I really like about Freddy is how hard he works. He's never gonna back down from any situation, he's gonna go out there and fight his ass off on every play. Winston is also learning the ropes but he had a great year last year as a true freshman. For a true freshman to come in here and do what he did is unheard of so as long as we can keep him out there and healthy everything will be all right."
You started a trend of players from the Oxnard/Ventura area (Chad Pierson, Bobby Otani, Keary Colbert, Whitney Lewis).
"It's great to have guys from back home. I mean, Bobby (Otani), I've known him forever, since I was born pretty much. It's cool to have guys around you that you've known for a long time."
You were a Trojan fan growing up, talk about being a part of the resurgence of the program.
"It's been great to be a part of the rebuilding process over the last couple years. We've had one good year and hopefully we can put a string of them together. I only have one more semester left before I graduate (with a degree in Public Policy and Management) so it's coming down to the end for me. I've had a great time, it's been a lot of fun, especially last year. It's a lot funner when you're winning. The campus comes a little more alive when you win."