Exit Interview: Scott Ware

In only two years at USC, Scott Ware earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitting safeties ever to wear a Trojan uniform. In this interview Scott talks about his hitting ability, his decision to attend USC and his infamous Monitor lizard "Croc". Click below for more:

When did you start playing football?

I had a year in fourth grade where I played Pop Warner and I hated it. I absolutely hated the discipline of it, I was a kid, all I wanted to do was climb trees and mess around. I had wanted to quit halfway through but my dad always told me that you finish what you start so I finished out that year and then I started playing hockey after that. I ended up playing hockey all the way up until my freshman year of high school when I started playing football again. I love hockey, I was fast on my skates and it was a good build-up for football. Now, I love football, I love everything about it. The fans, the anticipation for playing a game, all that stuff.

Has the hitting aspect of the game always come naturally to you?

It did once I got to high school. The thought of trying to inflict pain and cause fear in your opponent. I've got tapes from my sophomore and junior years in high school where I'm just demolishing people. It was always part of what I did. I was always a naturally physical kid who was looking to take on all challenges

You were originally supposed to enroll at USC for the spring semester but academic troubles forced you to delay coming down until the summer. At the time, you said you wanted to be here for spring so as to get bonded with your teammates as quickly as possible. How did that go during that initial summer once you finally got here?

The guys were very receptive to me coming in. I came and worked out that whole summer, doing the whole Carlisle workout where guys are puking on the side and I'm over there dying along with them. Your teammates see that kind of stuff and see that you're suffering with them and they accept you in that way. The summer was key but I was absolutely wish I had been there in the spring to get into the system earlier. In my junior year I think I was playing OK, I don't want to say I didn't know what I was doing but I wasn't yet comfortable with the system. I was doing enough and I picked it up fast enough to be in there but I wasn't to the point where I felt totally in control of everything I was doing. In this system, there's just no substitute for the repetitions you get in practice. It also hurt me to get hurt during the Cal game (foot) and to miss five weeks of practice after that.

Talk about that Cal game in your junior year. You played an important role in that game and received some pretty nice praise.

Pete Carroll called it the best tackling game he had seen from a safety. Coming from him, it's awesome to hear that. It's also a little disappointing to have that game and then get hurt and have to take a five week break. I walked around on the foot that night, had some painkillers in me, got up in the morning and I couldn't stand up. That's when I knew something was wrong. I had broken my wrist in high school and there's a point where you just know it's broken.

During that junior year was there anybody who helped guide you or really helped you out?

I don't know if there was any one person but Jason Leach was a great guy to have here, a guy who had been in the system a long time and so I was just able to watch his work ethic and learn from that. I wasn't a crazy kid coming in here, I was a junior college guy so I didn't really need anybody to rein me in or anything like that. I was coming in ready to work. I knew I only had two years here and so I had to get it done as soon as possible.

With all that you experienced as a junior, what had you most fired up about being part of this program as you headed into your senior year?

Just having the opportunity to be the guy, to be a starter. Going into my junior year I was competing with Jason Leach, a senior, and I think after that Cal game I would've had just as good of a chance to start. Going into my senior year I knew it was my job and I was good to go. It was one thing to win a national championship and to play a little bit in the game against Oklahoma but I wanted to win a national championship being the guy all season long and feeling like nobody had contributed any more than I did.

During spring ball last year you talked about having to send a message with a couple big hits to help establish yourself at free safety

That spring was another part of being the guy, that chance to solidify yourself. We had these young kids coming in, Kevin Ellison was having a great spring, and he was pushing me. Pete Carroll brought me in here because I could hit and I love to hit so that was my job. I hit Chauncey (Washington) once that spring and it was one of the sweetest hits I've ever had. That was kind of the hit of the spring, that was fun. Greg Burns loves it, he loves the way I hit and he loves that I play in a way that the coaches have to sometimes tell me to pull it back. When I first came in as a junior I was trying to pretty much hit everything that moved and Norm Chow came up to me at fall camp and asked me to lay off the starters, he told me "we only have so many guys".

You've also said it hurts to play like that.

Absolutely it hurts to play that way. I don't think my body is ever going to be the same after playing football.

Did any big hits ever impact you?

That Chauncey one we just talked about. It got my shoulder and I honestly don't think my shoulder has ever been the same. It jacked it up pretty good.

The sport is what it is, you can't avoid stuff like that

You can take out all the insurance policies you want but it's still football. When you're coming up for a hit, you're not going to lay off to save yourself. Well, I'm not, I don't necessarily know about other people.

What goes through your mind as you come up for a big hit?

There's a point, and it's about one and a half steps before you hit the guy, where you think "this is gonna be nice". It happened when I hit Anthony Fasano in the Notre Dame game. When that big hit is about to happen you know it and you just think "this is gonna be a sweet one". He might be leaning a certain way, his head might be turned a little so he doesn't know you're coming, you know it's going to be a good one.

How many comments have you heard about that Fasano hit?

I still hear them, all the time, at least once a week. It's cool when people say "Hey Ware, that was one of the best hits I've ever seen". It was a sweet one. It was one where it didn't hurt me at all because it was so clean.

You still have the final ball that was used in that Notre Dame game. Tell us how that happened.

As you recall, we kicked off on the final play of the game because there was like :03 on the clock after we scored the touchdown. Well, they are pitching the ball all over the place on the return and it was great because our guys had some great hits, go back and watch the tape and you'll see Clay Matthews is just demolishing guys. I had taken myself off kickoff coverage for most of the game because I'd gotten blindsided on an early punt return and my head wasn't quite right, I needed to save myself for defense too because I needed to be as solid as I could. On the final kickoff though, it was one of those things where I needed to be on the field so I put myself back in and I'm running down the field dog-tired, I mean that was one of the most physical games I've ever played in, and all of a sudden the final pitch falls to the ground and I jump on it. Now, I'm pretty much not letting go of that thing until I get out of that locker room. I just kneeled down for a little while and then I just ran off the field holding it in the air. It was great.

Talk about your appreciation for the USC vs Notre Dame rivalry after having the chance to play in a game like that.

You're not going to have a better day of football than that. I was so happy that my family was there, my mom and dad, my sisters, my brother in law. They got to walk around the school and get a real feel for it. Unfortunately it was my only chance to play at Notre Dame, I wish I could be around to play them for a few more years because I think they are going to be good for a while. It was great when we had our walk-through the day before the game and the fans were there chanting and that kind of thing, it got us fired up and had us ready to go. Go ahead and grow the grass long too, that's only motivation for us, go ahead and grow it two feet long if you want. We've both got to play on it.

Where were you on the sidelines for the final drive and the Leinart touchdown? How much could you see?

I couldn't see. I was standing on our bench holding hands with my teammates, we were there to watch "The Catch", I guess we can call it that now and we don't need to describe it any more than that, but on the play when the ball got knocked out of Matt's hands I couldn't see it go out of bounds because our view was blocked. All of a sudden though the clock ticks down and people are rushing the field and it was a shock because for a moment there I thought we had lost. The thought that went through my mind was "no, this isn't how it's supposed to end". Then they cleared the field and, man, I've never seen 10,000 people get off a field so fast.

Talk about the hype level that we saw for this team by the end of the year with barricades having to be put up so you guys could get from the locker room to the practice field.

Yeah, you can't get to practice if you're signing autographs. If you sign autographs on the way in to practice you're going to be late and you can't do that. USC is the show in L.A. and that showed it right there. We had more celebrities than anyone, we had two Heisman Trophy winners, we had guys with great personalities and people wanted to see us play.

Was there any part of being on this team, any benefit, that really stood out to you?

I don't really go out much so I'm not someone who was looking to meet any celebrities or be starstruck by anyone. To me, meeting Ronnie Lott and getting to talk to him was great. I talked with him after the Cal game after I hurt my foot and this year I would see him before games, shake his hand and he would tell me to go take somebody's head off. Before the national championship game this year he shook my hand and said "Be great". That's it, two words. Be great. Then he sent me out on the field. That to me is better than any celebrity I could meet. This is a guy I watched growing up, my family were 49'er fans, and Ronnie Lott was somebody who played my position and played it the way I want to play it. To hear those kinds of words from him, that's as good as it gets right there.

We heard you scared some of your teammates on Halloween when you threw your pet lizard into the shower after practice. Tell us about him.

I've had him for about four years now. His name is Croc. I used to have two; Croc and Gator, but Gator bit too much so I had to give him back to the pet store. Croc is a Savannah Monitor and from what I understand they are from Africa. I had been wanting to get a pet and I decided against a dog since a lot of places don't allow you to have dogs and then I thought about something like a fish or a turtle. I wanted something different and I ended up with Croc. He's one of the more tame breeds of monitors, he's never bit anybody or anything like that, but he can smell me and he knows when it's me so he'll just come over and close his eyes and try to cuddle. He's about four feet long though so he's a big freaking lizard.

Tell us about the reaction from your teammates when he got thrown into the shower/

He had been living with my dad for about a year during my duration here and finally on Halloween Day my dad brought him down here. My teammates didn't know anything about him so I put him in my locker before practice, he's a cold-blooded animal so if it's not warm he'll just shut down and sleep. I finally pulled him out after practice and (laughing) it freaked everybody out. All those guys man. Thomas Williams saw him from 50 feet away and just ran. I guess he thought it was fake at first so it freaked him out. Justin Wyatt went nuts when I put him in the shower, I've never seen a guy move that fast. It wasn't really anything I planned, I just brought him and decided to break him out. That's the only time he's been brought out in front of the teammates. Otherwise he just stays at home, I've got a leash for him, he loves going to the beach and laying on the warm sand. He also loves the water for some reason but I keep him away from that because he doesn't understand the waves can wash him away.

One of the comments you hear from teammates is that you're one of guys they wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley/

It's true, it is what it is. If you're going to come at me you better bring it because I'm not going to back down. I'm a good guy most of the time though, I don't get too stressed out off the field.

What do you think of life in Southern California the past two years?

Luckily I got to pick where I wanted to go to school. In the NFL, you don't get to pick where you want to go. When it came to picking a college I knew I wanted somewhere warm and I wanted somewhere as close as possible to home so my family could come out to see my games. I've been with the same girl the whole time, Tara, and she goes to Cal State Fullerton. She's getting a little nervous now with not knowing what city we're heading to next but it'll be all right. She's a great girl, I'll be with her for as long as she'll have me.

Talk about your training right now as you prepare for the NFL draft.

After I came back from Hawaii and the Hula Bowl I spent a week in Southern California before going back to New Jersey to do some training for the combine. My agent works with a facility back there and they've put out guys like Donta Robinson and Matt Jones. I went out there figuring I would give it a shot for a week and ended up staying there for three weeks. It was a good stuff. Now that the combine is done I'll be doing some work here with Coach Carlisle getting ready for Pro Day. Basically in New Jersey all we did was train for the drills that you do at the combine, every morning at 7:00am you run 40's and then at noon you run the shuttle, stuff like that. Right now I'm at 6-1 ¾ but I say 6-2 and I'm 217 pounds. I'm jumping 38 inches and running a mid 4.5 40. A lot of people question my speed but I can play football so I'm not too worried about it.

Why do some players choose to work with outside trainers to get ready for the combine rather than continue with the program under Coach Carlisle?

When it comes to playing football there is nothing better than what Carlisle does. He gets you ready to play football and he trains you in a way that can best avoid injuries. He also has to train 100 or so football players along with all the other athletes at USC so when it comes to getting ready for the combine I just wanted to go out to New Jersey and work on those specific drills for a little while, I didn't plan of staying there for three weeks though. They had some pretty sweet drills that definitely brought my times down. Now though I'll be back working out with Coach Carlisle because he'll help me get in the best football shape for Pro Day.

What was your favorite part about playing defensive back for Pete Carroll?

The fact that he was a defensive back, a safety. He taught me so much about the mental part of the game.

Do you get the sense that you two might have been the same type of player?

Absolutely (laughing). He was probably a little crazy when he played too. I loved working with him because he taught me about seeing the field, getting prepared, that sort of thing.

Talk about your fellow safety Darnell Bing.

I love Darnell. I love playing next to him. He got all kinds of pub and that's all right with me. Darnell is just a cool guy, you know what I mean, he's cool in every sense of the word. We get along real well and sometimes out there on the field I try to crack jokes or things like that to lighten him up and get him smiling. One thing people don't know about me is that on the field I'm smiling all the time. I enjoy every second of knocking the crap out of people. I don't even really talk trash to the opponent, I'm just having fun while Darnell is a little more intense.

What is your major?

Policy, Planning and Development. City planning and stuff like that. I don't really know what I want to do after football is over because I pretty much have tunnel vision right now. I'm trying to focus on football as much as I can because I know I'm not going to play football forever. I'll fall back on my education when the time comes. I've got another year left to go before I graduate because I lost a lot of units when I transferred from junior college but I definitely want to graduate from USC, that's something I am planning to do. I enjoy school, I enjoy the heck out of it, it's just hard to balance both sometimes. I'm the kind of guy where I focus on one thing really well and I don't like to spread myself too thin.

One of the things I don't think most people understand is how much work it takes to be a part of this program.

Oh man. Looking back, it's seems nuts to try to pull it off. To try and go to a top university and compete academically, not only pass your classes but to try and do well, and then to also compete for a national championship on the football field. You hardly sleep at night sometimes because you have so much stuff to do. It's all worth it though, this is the kind of place where your dreams can come true. Except for the Rose Bowl, I had a perfect career here. Some people have been talking trash about the Rose Bowl but I'm quick to come back and say "hey, what bowl game did you play in?" I've been to two national title games, if you want to talk about it we can do that. I don't know if I would call it an arrogance that we have. If we were a bad team and we walked the way we do then it might arrogance but when you're damn good, like we are, it's not arrogance. It's the truth. We have a swagger to us and that's the way we work. We put in the work to be able to have that kind of swagger. When you know that you have worked harder than anybody else in the nation to be where you are, you deserve to be able to walk like that.

That all starts with the off-season workouts we're seeing right now with Coach Carlisle.

Absolutely. It comes from working in the weight room, seeing your buddy damn near passing out on the track and you're right there with him. Going through all that. Spending time together. It's like when they make a sword, you heat it up and then you just pound it and pound it so it becomes stronger than it was before. That's the way our system functions here.

How does Scott Ware want to be remembered at USC?

Just as somebody who worked as hard as he could while he was here and gave everything he could to the Trojan community. I play football for the respect of it. You could not pay me a dime and I would still want to go out there and play football to earn the respect of my teammates and my opponents. I went to the Hula Bowl and Coach Willingham brought the team together before the first practice and one of the things he did was he singled me out and told me not to hit any of the receivers during practice because we only had four receivers. For him to know who I was and to know that I'm someone who loves to hit people, that's all I could ever want.

So it's safe to say that your decision worked out to attend junior college and to pass up other scholarship opportunities for the chance at playing big-time football at a school like USC.

It's a story for the ages, it couldn't have gone any better and I just wish it could work out this well for everybody. I think it took a lot of faith in myself, a lot of faith in God and some family support to make that decision and see it through. It's been an amazing time.

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