Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Media Day Choice Cuts - Washington Defense

With all the interviews done Thursday at Washington's Peach Bowl Media Day event, it was time to go through and find the choice cuts, the great quotes you want to read about. Up first, the UW defensive players and coaches.

Taylor Rapp 

Why Washington? - “I just wanted to be a home town…play for the home team, home school, play in front of friends and family. It’s just a different feeling staying home and playing in front of friends and family, being that hometown hero.”

Who is your favorite UW player of all-time? - “I’d say Lawyer Milloy.”

Favorite interception of the season? - “I’d say the last one in the Pac-12 Championship against Colorado. Not the first one I ran back. That one was pretty good because I scored, but I’d say the second one because earlier in the game I got beat on the exact same route. When I picked it off I saw the set and it was third down so it was the exact same set and I was expecting the route to come again. I undercut the receiver. It felt good because I got beat on it earlier.”

Brandon Wellington 

Thinking ahead to the rest of his career - “For coach Petersen to come here and turn this program around in three short years, for him to come and fight for a national championship? And for us to fight for a national championship is something special for years to come.”

On dealing with the distractions this week - “We know what we’re supposed to do. We’re going to treat it like another game. You can’t psyche ourselves out. We’re just going to play our game how we have all year and hopefully it’ll come out in our favor.”

Highlight from this year - “For me personally, growing up in Washington it would be winning the Apple Cup. Beating Wazzu. I have a lot of friends that go over there, so the smack talk throughout the week and then after the game, that’s probably my favorite part. When you have 30,000 people screaming against you and then for you to come out with the win, holding the Apple Cup at the end? The feeling is pure joy.”

Benning Potoa'e

Consider yourself a rush end or outside ‘backer? - “I consider myself sort of a hybrid. I could be a d-end, I’m heavy enough. I feel like I’m mobile enough to be an outside linebacker. I just like coming off the edge.”

Was there a moment or game where you felt you were taking steps in your development? - “I would say the Cal game. I started feeling more comfortable. It was all confidence in myself and my play. I was starting to play my game instead of worrying about what to do here and what the offense was going to do there. Just being able to play into my comfort.”

Last time I talked to you was the day you committed to UW. Could you have envisioned this a couple years later? - “No. It all happened, the season flew by. All the games we’ve won, all the hard work we’ve put in - it’s paying off. Quite honestly I didn’t see it.”

What’s the vibe so far this week, especially on the defense? - “We’re feeling pretty good. Obviously Alabama’s here for a reason and they’ve been here for a reason. We’re ready to take whatever challenge is thrown at us. We’re meshed as always, as any game. We’re not going to do anything different that we haven’t done before.”

Camilo Eifler

Is it hard to wonder what it might be like to play in a game like this coming up? - “Throughout the year the program has done a great job of incorporating the redshirts during practice, as well as the coaches. They gave us a great look over the summer and our fall camp and scrimmages. I was able to travel during the Cal game and got a taste of what that would be on the road. With a year like this I’m looking forward to having another successful year to come.”

How did the conversation go with coach Gregory about redshirting? - “I haven’t played a lot of football. From my background I’ve been playing two years in high school. It was more an understanding of my position and football and how that incorporates. I’m not developed yet. Using me in the future is going to be more of an asset than just throwing me in there as soon as possible.”

What’s your current weight right now? - “Like 221.”

Future position? - “I’ve been taking more MIK reps recently, for the past three weeks instead of the WIL. I started out at WIL and (Gregory) moved me to MIK. The change for me isn’t doing that much.”

Connor O'Brien

With all the things you guys have done this week, how hard has it been to keep the distractions to a minimum? - “Coach Pete has really prepared us for things like this for a while now, so I think our team is very level-headed and we know what we’re here for. We’re here to play this game, and that’s our main objective.”

How have the practices gone now that you’re trying to get back to 100 percent health? - “It’s been good. It’s been a good process. Never easy, but it’s part of the game. It’s part of sports. Things happen. It’s been good.”

I know you haven’t watched much tape of Alabama’s defense, but as a defender what’s your take on them? - “They are phenomenal. That’s why Alabama is always thought to be the best team in the country year after year and they deserve that title. They are a heck of a team and they have a phenomenal defense.”

DJ Beavers

On last year sowing the seeds for success this year - “I think last year laid the framework for everything we did this year, especially toward the end of the season when we won a few games in a row and kept on that roll this season.”

Was there a turning point where you felt like things started to click for you? - “I feel like maybe that Washington State game. I played a good game and it was my second start, I think. I kind of calmed down from my first start and everything came together for me.”

Talk about that pick just before half - “Just reading my keys and I saw (Luke Falk) toss up the ball and I went for the pick. They were going pretty fast and I was already kind of winded so I don’t think a 100-yard run would have gotten very far. And there was only 30 seconds on the clock so might as well take a knee.”

Elijah Qualls 

On the Battle For Bowl Week belt - “It’s legit! There’s actually some weight to it. It’s real. It’s dope. I didn’t even know it was going to be like that. They told me it was a real belt, but obviously you don’t really know until you hold it. Somebody handed it to me last night and I was like, there’s some weight to it. Cool.”

On the last six teams to win the belt winning the bowl - “So I’ve heard. While that is a little bit more motivation, a belt ain’t going to win you a game. We’ve got to win the game. It’s cool to think about, for sure.”

On the chemistry with Vita Vea and Greg Gaines - “It’s honestly like family. Blood couldn’t make us any closer. We spend every single day together, football or not. Vacation time, if we’re not all home we’ll go to the beach, do things, paintball and whatever. Just to hang out because we all enjoy being around each other and understanding that the man next to you knows his job, he wants to win as bad as you do and will do anything he can to not just help make your job easier but to help the team? It makes doing your job that much easier and you that much more confident in doing what you need to do to be good or to make that play or to help him make that play or help somebody else make that play.”

On nobody giving UW a chance to win this game - “I’m fine with that. That’s perfectly fine. Don’t believe we can win, because…I know we can. We’re going to have to play our A game for sure, because this is the best team in the country, statistically and everything like that. But if we play our A game I truly believe there’s not a team that we can’t beat. And while they are very sound and very good at a lot of positions, nobody’s perfect. And anybody can win, anybody can lose. That’s why you love this game. That’s why I love this game. That’s why everybody does, because there’s no such thing as that team that will always win. A lot of teams will win a lot, but no one is undefeatable.”

Could you have envisioned yourself being here a year ago? - “Yeah! I told everybody I know and everybody when I first got here as redshirt freshman - I’m not leaving without a national championship. There was no way I wouldn’t be able to do it. If I had to, we were at least going to make a run for it. Rose Bowl wasn’t good enough. That would be cool, but that’s good. That’s not great.”

Bob Gregory 

Seems like the players are trying to treat this game like just another game - “I think you have to. I do think they understand the impact of it all. We’ve had great practices since we’ve been here and had great practices at U-Dub when we were there. But it is that relaxed focus. I think our guys are dialed in to that.”

When a player like Azeem goes down, did you hesitate at all when thinking about Camilo? - “There’s some argument to having just five years of eligibility and no redshirt. I’m sure you’ve heard some of those things. I’m not sure that will ever happen. But yeah, the kids we decide to redshirt, you really don’t think about those guys. He’s been redshirting for so long when a guy goes down you don’t really think about, you’ve got to take that guy off redshirt. You don’t think about that. It is part of the process. By the end of the year you’re going to lose some guys so it would be nice to have all those guys playing all year long. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, but it would help.”

On being at Boise State when they beat Virginia Tech and Tyrod Taylor (comparison to Jalen Hurts) - “I was at Boise-Virginia Tech, and very similar to him. The guy can obviously make plays with his feet. He’s got a very good arm. And for a young guy for the amount of stuff they do on offense he’s managing it very well. I’m impressed with the guy.”

In your heart, did you think this was possible this year? Or was it a year away? - “I think you never know. You just stick with the process. I really believe that. I know that’s a little bit of a coaching cliche but I think if we stick with the process…we knew we had a great spring. We had a great summer, and if we just stayed after it we had a chance to at least be in every game. As it turned out it worked out and it worked out that way. Hopefully we just keep the momentum going.”

Jimmy Lake 

On Taylor Rapp - “When I saw him in spring football I knew there was something special about him. I started moving him around different positions and he’d pick those up. He’d make plays in practice. He was an early enrollee and then through training camp continued to make plays and then got himself in the starting rotation. Now he’s a starter for us. So if I think there’s one player I didn’t think he’d be leading us in interceptions right now. That was definitely a pleasant surprise from Taylor.”

On the Seahawks comparison being appropriate, maybe personality-wise? - “I don’t know about it being a legitimate comparison. We coach an NFL scheme, so I think there’s a lot of comparisons there. There’s a lot of defense you can watch and nothing wrong with it but it’s more of a college scheme. I come from the National Football League, so our secondary plays the same coverages as the National Football League. So I could see where the comparisons lie there. But other than that obviously it’s the NFL. The great thing about this game is, over time they always talk about the highlights of the receivers or the quarterbacks and the running backs, but when you get to the doorstep of the national championship, it usually always comes back to defense. You see Alabama has a great defense. We have shown that we’re pretty good ourselves. When you get to this point you have to have championship defense. It’s great now that we’re talking more about it, the dark side.”

On the DB’s holding down the ‘Death Row’ rep right now - “No. I think it’s all 11. It’s all positions. This is made up by the players, obviously. I said this way back when: as long as we’re hitting people and we’re tackling and we’re running to the football every single play - you can call yourselves whatever you want. And we’re attacking, trying to get the ball, interceptions, forced fumbles, and trying score on defense - you can call yourselves whatever you want. Whenever we get to that point where we’re not doing that then we shouldn’t have a moniker, but I think it’s the linebackers, it’s the d-line, it’s the DBs. Sometimes the DBs get a little bit more flash because maybe they’re getting the interceptions and the lights are shining on them. But we’re not going to be getting that interception if Vita Vea and Greg Gaines aren’t pushing the pocket and pushing the quarterback to throw errant passes so we can get interceptions.”

On how the redshirt guys are doing - “It’s been great watching these guys. They are on the scout team right now redshirting, but they’ve all put on weight, they look stronger, they look more confident in their techniques. They’ve been able to sit back and watch some pretty big-time players in front of them, all-conference guys that are making big plays for us. It’s been an awesome training session for those guys this last six months or so, and it’s going to be their time shortly. It’s going to be fun to watch these guys step in and replace these guys.”

Ikaika Malloe 

What’s the last year been like? - “Let me say this: I’m very grateful for me personally. I thank God for the opportunity to come here. You would think it’s a whirlwind because of how close-knit this staff is, but for me it was a great transition. They welcomed me in just as much as I tried to learn coach Petersen and his culture. I feel really proud to be a part of his staff. Also being an alumni at Washington, I couldn’t have asked for a better head coach leading our program, talking about outside looking in. And then being a part of it, I compared him a lot to Don James when I was playing and just the bond that he’s created between the players. He really truly cares about these players. He cares about us as a staff. I’m just happy that I fit in.”

When you talk to former teammates and other UW grads, what’s their sense of how big the turnaround has been under Petersen? - “Really excited. They are really excited about it. In fact Donovan Schmidt lives down here in Atlanta so I got to see him at the practices. He is not amazed at what we’re doing as a team. He’s amazed at how much we’re parallel to when we were playing and how close these players are. He said he can see the bond between the players. That’s what they’ve missed. They miss the program itself and having pride for Seattle and having pride for Washington - and they can see it now.”

On comparisons between Petersen and Don James - “It starts with him making the players a better person. I think that’s what Don James was really good at, trying to make sure you excel at being a person first and have that translate on to the field. And that’s what (Petersen) has done. As an ex-player, ex-Husky I should say, that’s what I’ve been seeing in terms of what Chris Petersen has done. Everything’s so much off the field and how they can develop us as players than on the field, and you can see it translating over. He truly actually cares about us as people, as opposed to football players. To me as a player, that’s what I see the parallel between Don James and Chris Petersen.”

Is there a lot of size on size, strength on strength when you see this matchup between your DL and Alabama’s OL? - “You talk about size on size, strength on strength, this will be the best team we’ve faced in terms of that. At the University of Washington, everybody knows about Vita Vea and the size and the speed that he has. In my opinion, I think Alabama has five of them on their offensive front. They are really big. They are athletic enough to move from hash to hash, and they are physical enough to play pound-for-pound football. We have our work cut out for us this Saturday.”

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