Exit Interview: Justin Tolliver

Outgoing cornerback and special teams player talks about football, his family's Trojan championship legacy, and a dance-off with the University of Oklahoma Sooners.

Congratulations on winning the national championship this past season. So that makes it three national championship rings in the family now right?

That's right - two for myself and one for my father.

What does being a part of the Trojan family mean to you?

Being a part of the Trojan family is something special to me because I feel I'm a part of history and a legacy. My father played here in the 70's. I kind of followed the same path, and it means a whole lot to me being part of the Trojan family. So many great players have played here: O.J., Mike Garrett, Dennis Thurman… That's something special to be part of, something great and unique.

What made you choose number 21?

Actually, I didn't choose number 21. I was originally number 38. I took some time off to run track, and when I came back my junior year, I needed another number because Brandon Ting took my number, so I got handed the number 21 jersey. You know how the Ting twin thing is like 38 and 39, and so they have to be next to each other. (Laughs.)

I have fun wearing 21, especially because I get mistaken for Lendale all of the time. When Lendale always score's a touchdown and people are looking for him on the sideline, for some reason, the camera's always showing me. (Laughs.)

What made you choose to walk-on at USC for football?

Well, I played in high school. I was offered scholarships at LSU, Virginia, and Hampton University coming out of high school. I was so happy when I got into USC, and when I got here I just felt I couldn't go through school without playing football.

What is your favorite moment from your USC football career?

It would have to be the game against Arizona Sate. It was my first game starting on kick-off and when I ran down I made an open field tackle. They called my name out and everything. They had a 10 second segment saying I am the son of former Trojan, Kevin Williams. That was my first taste of fame. My roommate was Matt Grootegoed for that game and we were watching the morning shows that day and they were talking about how we were overrated and that ASU was going to shock the world. As soon as I heard those remarks I was immediately in game mode. That day I was so ready to play and so I made that tackle and from that play we just dominated that game. As far as my mindset on kick off goes, you go through a whole process in your head before you even make physical contact with the opponent. My mind set on kick-off is to contain and close in on the guy. You just have to be ready.

Tell us about that big interception you had your first year in 2001 against Cal.

That was a real special moment for me. I had some really good practices leading up to the game. When we got to Cal, we just dominated them from the start. Coach looks over to me at half-time and says "you're gonna play this game." When I got the call to come in at right corner, I could not believe it. There were thousands of people still in the stands. When I got in I was feeling a little nervous. I wanted to have a little fun. I made a tackle. It was crazy because the crowd just started to leaving when we were beating them so bad. So the coach puts me in and guy threw the ball right at me. I caught it and ran it back about ten yards.

Because the game was not televised, none of the fans knew. When I got back to the dorms, I was like, "I got an interception!" but nobody would believe it. That made the interception more meaningful and special to me, because nobody knew about it.

What does playing on special teams mean to you?

I look at it as my life. Every time I'm out there, it means something to me just being out there. You have a responsibility and you cannot let your teammates down. Special teams is better than playing an actual position in some ways, because you're free to do whatever you want to do. You play from the heart running down and tackling someone.

In 2002, you ran for the track and field team. What events were you involved in and did you also do track in high school?

I ran for USC my freshman and sophomore year. I competed in the 100 meter and the 4 x 100 meter relay. Coach Allice is really funny. He has a cool personality. With him you know when it's play time and when it's straight up business.

Your father, Kevin "Bug" Williams, lettered at USC for the football and track and field teams as a wide receiver and a lead relay runner. He was a member the 1978 championship team. Did you as a result grow up dreaming of playing at USC on either the football team, or the track team, or both?

I really did grow up dreaming about going to USC. That's one of the reasons why I did not choose LSU. There was something about USC that made me wonder why my father went to USC. I came out here, and here it is. I'm glad I made the decision to come here.

What are your early memories of talking with your dad about USC?

My father talked very highly of USC, like USC was the world. It was the life to live. I kind of see what he means now because we've won two consecutive championships and everywhere you go, someone knows you. When I go out, people notice me. I know my father had some good times at USC.

Did Paul Mcdonald or Charles White share with you any memories they had about your father?

I got a chance to talk to both. Charles is actually a good friend of the family. He helped push me to walk-on with the team. He's told me many stories, how they were troublemakers. Paul talks about how he could always depend on my father during games.

Your father was killed in an unfortunate train accident when you were thirteen. Can you tell us how this affected your general life? Did it push you harder and make you stronger person? How did this affect you?

Well, I'm still trying to figure it out, what effect it had on myself and my personality. I'm still trying to figure it out to this day because there was so much lost. I'm glad I had and do have a strong mother to take care of me. I did not really know my father that well. I just won two national championships, have graduated from his college and all this stuff, and he's not here. I believe it made me grow faster into becoming a man, has made me stronger, and has made me who I am today. I know father would be proud of me today.

How would you compare the brotherhood of your fraternity to the brotherhood of the football team?

I have been a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity since my sophomore year. There is a great deal of brotherhood in the fraternity. It differs from football because football is more segmented. The positions hang out with their own positions. I'm good friends with Jason Leach, Mike Ross, and the Tings. Football can also be similar to a fraternity. You go through all these processes to part of the team just like when you pledge a fraternity.

We understand you are a good dancer. Are you the best dancer on the team? And what's this we hear about a dance-off with the Sooners in Miami?

I taught the whole team a dance - the Kappa (fraternity) strut. It was the year we went to the Rose Bowl. A DJ was playing a song and I just got up and started teaching the dance. I had everybody doing the dance. We were all bonding. We did it at the Rose Bowl and at the Orange Bowl.

During the Orange Bowl Festivities, we were at a Comedy Show with the Sooners, and some guys from OU started "pop locking" (a break dance move). Everybody on the team knew that was my specialty, and so I got up and showed OU my moves. So OU and USC got into a little dance off at the comedy club. We definitely won that. OU can't get down the way USC does! (Laughs.)

Do you have a nickname?

I like to go by JT. I think going as "Justin" is corny. I picked up the name JT in high school. They also call me Money Mike from the character from "Friday After Next" who is a pimp and very small.

What are your future career plans?

I majored in Policy, Planning, and Development. I'm into anything that involves real estate. I plan to be my own broker. I want to get into development.

Anything else you want to say to USC fans as you move on to your next chapter in life?

I just want to say to the fans to stay humble. I don't want anyone to down us. It's just a game. Everybody loses and everybody wins. Just stay supportive and FIGHT ON. To the fans, thank you for supporting me and my teammates. I don't think we're gonna go anywhere for a while. We're gonna keep giving you a good showing. Get ready for the future!

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