"For some reason people have always had a difficult time tackling me. I can understand it when I was around 275 or 300 pounds but I don't know what the reason is now. My thought process is that I'm just going to run the person over. There's no "they might tackle me" or "they might trip me up". I'm always looking to run the person over."
There's been a lot of talk over the years about the possibility of you playing other positions, what do you tell people when they ask you about switching spots?
"I say "You're probably right. A lot of people would be good at a lot of different positions." I think I've been successful at tight end, that's what I enjoy playing, so as long as I can keep being successful why should I look at changing positions?"
Talk about your recruiting process and how you chose USC.
"I just felt real comfortable at USC. One of the big things for me was the alumni I met and the way they stressed how important the SC family is after football. I was fortunate to have Carson (Palmer) and Petros (Papadakis) as my hosts during the recruiting process. They took me to the Library Tower which is the tallest building west of the Mississippi. We were up there and they had a helicopter come up and we got to watch him dive down into the city, it was crazy. I was a young, impressionable guy and all these people were telling me how I was this big recruit and I was eating it up. To hear stuff like that from someone like Carson Palmer meant a lot. With Petros being Greek we formed a pretty good relationship. Petros and his dad kind of took me under their wing from the start. When I met John Papadakis at a spring practice for the first time he jumped over a fence and grabbed me. John and I have a pretty special relationship. With him, being Greek is a big issue. Greek people are very lively people and everybody who knows him knows how he can be. I remember him telling me "you can be a student, you can be an athlete or you can be a hero. If you want to be a hero, come to USC."
In your time at USC you've become known as a top recruiter, is that something you take pride in?
"I do take a lot of pride in my recruiting. I think I'm able to offer these kids an honest perspective on the trip and show them things that I don't think they can see at other schools. The reason I'm able to do that is because I can communicate and because of the people I've met through the SC family. The SC family is so vast. The biggest thing I sell, it doesn't matter who the player is, is that this family is going to support you whether you're good in football or not. There's guys that aren't going to pan out, that's just the nature of the sport, and at USC you're always going to have the Trojan Family to fall back on. On top of that you get a great education and have a chance to win a national championship."
Talk about the hit in the Orange Bowl. When did you know something was wrong?
"The second I got hit I knew there was something wrong. I had never been hit really hard before. There was not point in my career where I had taken and hit and just said "wow that hurt", there was never anything like that. On this play the ball was thrown behind me and I was kind of twisted in the air, he hit me right in the small of my back. If you watch the tape of the play you see the back of my head snap back and hit my back. I was down on all fours on the ground for about thirty seconds. Mike (Williams) came up to talk to me and I tried to get over to the sidelines but then they called double tight ends so I couldn't come out."
Talk about sitting out the season.
"It really was a blessing in disguise. I was depressed for a while because it was the first time in my life since I started competing that I was without football. As it turned out I grew so much as a person and as an athlete, physically-wise, I'm in by far the best shape of my life. I feel great and I think the results are going to show this fall. One thing I thought I realized before, I certainly realize it now, is that your career can be over in one play. That's not something I truly recognized until the Orange Bowl. Maybe I took it for granted but I don't anymore. I realize the value of the education and that's something I try to stress to as many athletes as I can."
You're at 257 pounds right now. How did you get in such good shape?
"Coach Carlisle helped me a lot with lifting because I hadn't lifted for a year. I also stopped drinking, it wasn't anything that was a problem but I just stopped it completely, and I started doing the Zone diet. My brother in law Troy (Polamalu), he does the Zone diet and so I started on it as well. I've always been real strong because of Coach Carlisle but because of my body type I never really lost weight. I think the Zone diet is what helped me lose weight this year."
Tell us about Troy and your sister.
"Troy and my sister are engaged. Troy is the epitome of a great football player, he's great on the field and he's great off the field. There's just no other way to describe him. He's like a perfect person and we're glad to have him in our lives. My sister is beautiful and a lot of guys have approached me but there's no doubt in my mind he's the only guy I'd let talk to my sister."
Your brother is getting ready to start his freshman year at Mater Dei.
"He just shaved his head, he looks ridiculous. I'm excited for him, they have him playing tight end and defensive end. He's 6-3, 245 right now. I'm going to check him out this fall when we have some bye weeks. We'll see if he has what it takes. He's like me, he didn't get to play football until he got to high school because he was too big."