Matt Leinart Q&A

In his first year as a starting quarterback for the Trojans Matt Leinart had about as good a season as one could hope to have. He led his team to a national title, a Rose Bowl victory and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year along the way. sat down with Leinart to get his thoughts on the experience and to talk about his role on the team. Click below for the interview:

What a difference a year makes. Last year we sat down at this time and nobody really knew what was going to happpen. Turned out to be a nice year.

"Yeah, it was a great year. Exciting. Like you said, with everyone not knowing who I was, I think I kind of put myself on the map. I think it was just the opportunity I was given and I made the most of it. Now my life has changed, for the better, and I'm so excited and happy to be a part of this program. To be able to play here, to play for Coach Carroll, it's been great."

Being the quarterback of the national champions has to make for an interesting off-season with all the attention.

"There's definitely more people coming up to you, I think being noticed is the biggest thing that's changed for me since the season ended. There's tons of Trojan fans in Orange County and LA so it seems like everywhere I go people are coming up and talking about USC. It's cool, I mean, it gets crazy sometimes but I wouldn't change any of it. It's kind of what happens when you win. When you're part of a winning program, no matter where you are, people are going to recognize that you're part of a winning program. It all goes with the territory of winning."

Talk about the Playboy trip.

"Oh, the Playboy trip was fun. Shaun (Cody) and I roomed together, I think Tommy was with the other kicker, and it was just a great experience. We got there and the first two guys we met were the Michigan guys, Braylon Edwards and Marlin Jackson, so we kind of hung around with them which is kind of ironic I guess. They were cool guys, pretty much everyone was having a good time and it was fun to hear stories and have people talk about their universities and what they go through. It was good to see the outlook of other players and to hear what they think of us. There were no females running around in little bunny suits, it was just a bunch of guys in a hotel by themselves."

One story from the camp said you and Shaun had the room where everyone hung out.

"I don't know about that. I think ours was probably the dirtiest, it looked like we were living in that place for like a month. We just had everything everywhere. There were guys in and out of our room but we weren't even in there a lot of the time so I find that kind of funny."

When do you start throwing sessions?

"We start today actually. We're just going to slowly get back into it. We'll get most of the receivers out there today, most of the offensive skill positions, and we'll just lightly start throwing again and work our way toward fall camp so we'll be ready to go. We'll go twice a week until 4th of July but once we get into July we'll go three times a week. We'll start getting the defense out there, going 7 on 7, and every once in a while we'll get the whole team out there and run a few team plays."

Talk about the receivers right now.

"Steve Smith is gonna be the guy. He's working out real hard and he'll be the guy, depending on Mike's situation, which we can't even think about because if it happens it happens, obviously we want him and if he comes back it would be a big positive for us. We have to look at it as if he's not gonna come back and when you look at what we have now we've got some great receivers. Even if Mike comes back Steve Smith would be kind of like Keary Colbert, he's gonna be in the same role, he's gonna make plays, he's just gonna be that solid all-around receiver. Whitney Lewis had a big spring. I thought Willie Buchanan had a really good spring and it will be interesting to see how he kind of plays into things this fall. I've heard a lot of good things about Dwayne Jarrett coming in. It's gonna be a lot of guys fighting to play and the good thing is that we're going to have 5 or 6 capable receivers who can play."

What are you working on this off-season to improve your game?

"I'm really trying to work on my footwork to just get faster and quicker in the pocket. Not necessarily faster but I want to be able to move around a little bit more this year. Last year I benefited from having a great offensive line so I had the luxury of not really having to run and not really getting pressured. This year, we're going to have a great offensive line but they're going to be young and a little inexperienced so you don't know what's going to happen. I'm confident that they're going to get the job done and everything but for myself I just want to be able to move faster. I've just been working on getting more leg strength and at the same time doing my upper body work and getting my arm stronger. I'm doing yoga twice a week down in Orange County. I'm doing it for flexibility because that leads to speed, it's all kind of connected. Yoga is really good for your mind, who knows if that part is going to work in football when you need to keep your calm during a game but you never know. It does increase flexibility and that's my main goal for doing it."

I heard you knocked off a pretty good vertical recently.

"Yeah, 36 inches. The thing is I'm a pretty competitive person and I've been playing sports all my life. Baseball was my best sport by far, I was a pitcher but then I got hurt with a rotator cuff and had to give up baseball so I started playing football and that's obviously worked out for me. What people don't realize is that I'm a pretty good athlete. I can play basketball, I think I can play all the sports. I hear some of the things when people say I'm not a mobile quarterback but that doesn't mean I'm not a good athlete. It's a big misconception because I'm not fast. When I jumped that I surprised myself but last year I jumped a 33 and 1/2, which is good for a quarterback. When I jumped 36 I was pretty impressed and kind of shocked but then I realized "why can't I jump 38 next year?" and so that's a little personal goal. If I went out and jumped 38 or 39 that would really shock everybody."

When you look back at last year what are the moments that stand out for you?

"I think the best thing was winning the Rose Bowl, just being a part of that whole game. That and the Notre Dame game, personally for me as a first year starter going into that stadium, that was a pretty cool experience. Those two games for me were kind of surreal. The Rose Bowl, there's so much tradition, Notre Dame, there's so much tradition. It's kind of the same so when you get to play in both games and you win both of them it's just kind of like "wow". I mean, Arizona State was big for me. Getting hurt in that game kind of made me work harder and made me realize "I need to get this job done". By coming back in and doing all right, leading the team, showing my teammates that I was going to do anything to play and help them, it kind of solidified myself on the team I think. Those are some of the big moments and the big games that stand out."

When you were leading the band after the Rose Bowl it looked like you were really soaking it in.

"It was kind of weird because seniors usually do that and when they called me up there it was like "this is cool". Plus to be up there in front of 60,000 people when everyone is just screaming and we were right in front of the band, it was just one of those times. You just kind of soak it in because you know it's a chance that may never happen again."

I want to talk about two plays from last year. First, it's the Oregon State game, you throw the ball toward Mike Williams in the end zone, what went through your mind after the ball left your hand?

"As the ball left my hand I thought I threw it too high. I knew I threw it in a position where he was the only person who could make a play but right when I threw it I thought it was going to carry over his head. I just saw him come out of nowhere and grab it with one hand, it was just like "holy crap". It was probably the best catch I've ever seen, just a great catch, and to do it one-handed when I thought he wasn't going to get it makes it all the better."

Second play. The Rose Bowl, you're in the huddle and the play call comes in for the reverse pass."

"I had a big smile on my face. You have to kind of hide from the defense but I was walking to the huddle with a smile. When he called it I was kind of shocked but it was like "sweet, let's do this". Nobody thinks I'm gonna be the one catching the ball so they weren't covering me and when it happened it was just so cool. That was another one of my favorite memories from last season. You watch the play on film and you realize what a good play Mike made, he had the ball in his hand for a half second and just threw it right on the money."

Only sophomore since John Elway to be named Pac-10 Player of the Year. That's not bad company.

"What can you say to that? You don't really think of anything like that, you just keep playing every week and you keep putting up numbers, you just do your thing. Every week you just go out and play football. A lot of people will say they don't know how good of a quarterback I am because of the people I had around me. I let them say that because, OK, I did have those people around me but I got the ball to them and got the job done. I mean, it was such an honor and to be the only sophomore since Elway kind of speaks for itself."

You are now a leader of this team. What have you noticed about yourself when dealing with your teammates?"

"It's weird because you come in as a freshman and you're kind of looking up to everybody. Now I'm in a position where people are looking up to me because I'm an upperclassman but I can totally remember being in their shoes and I know what they're going through. I really believe I'm a leader of this team and I know the guys look at me like that and respect me as a leader. I try to do everything possible to work hard and set an example for the younger guys. It's tough because a lot of these guys have never experienced losing. They come right in and win a national championship or an Orange Bowl. I had one year here when we were losing and it was hard. When you win you take it for granted and think it's gonna be like that all the time. It's my job and the job of the other upperclassmen to not let anybody get complacent, to just stay hungry to do it again because it's not going to be any easier. It's gonna be harder this year because everyone is gunning for us. That's the thing that's cool though because I like having the pressure on us. I just hope the younger guys can see us leading by example."

What's the best part of being a student here when the football team is on top?

"I wasn't here when SC was doing really bad so I couldn't tell you but my guess is nobody was caring too much about the football team. It's such a tradition rich football school and now that it's back people are just so excited. You just hear from everybody, from teachers, from students, anybody you can imagine is a football fan and they want to talk about the Trojans. It's cool because it livens everybody up and I think winning a national championship and Rose Bowl brings a lot of appeal and kids want to come to your school. I've heard that and I think it's true. People can treat you different sometimes, they treat you like you're the king of the world and it's cool because we work hard and it's nice to know that we have fans who support us." Top Stories