We’re here with Ryan Killeen, USC’s kicker for the past three seasons. First of all, Ryan, congratulations on your National Championship this past season.
Thank you very much.
What does it mean to you to end your college career with a National Championship?
It was awesome, just to be a part of an organization that was so strong and to actually win a National Championship; a lot of people don’t ever go to college and have an opportunity to do that. Even some of the greatest people in the NFL and college history have never had a National Championship so to go out with one and actually go out with two, it was awesome.
Looking back on your three years at USC and your time at Mount San Antonio College before that, can you believe where your college career has taken you?
No, not at all. I went to Mount SAC just to kick for fun, really. I played all the other positions and I ended up kicking real well. I ended up getting a scholarship here and I never thought anything like this would happen, especially coming in on a year like the one SC was having. To turn around and have three unbelievable years, you know, it’s unbelievable *laughs*.
What drew you to USC as a transfer? Were you looking for any major program to go to or was there something special about USC that made you want to become a Trojan?
The tradition, the family, the heritage, everything about that, the alumni group that they have, it’s local to my hometown, and it’s a great organization to be a part of and I’ve always had an interest in USC. Growing up, I would always want to play football for the organization [USC]. Basically, it was local and the heritage and tradition it [USC] has.
It seems like the Special Teams players would be close knit by design, what players were your closest friends on the team?
Basically, the whole special teams unit. Mario, Tommy Malone, and Will Collins, going all the way down to guys like Reggie, anyone who had anything to do with special teams, we were all close together because we all had meetings together. But I’d have to say Malone, Mario, and Will.
You probably have more tackles than any other kicker in the country; including one this year in the Orange Bowl, did you play any other positions in high school that might have influenced your style of full contact kick off coverage?
Yeah, yeah…I played on all Special Teams on the kicking and also on all the other aspects, I’d be rushing, I’d do kickoff return, played safety and cornerback on defense and then I played receiver, tailback, and if the quarterback ever went down, I was the back up quarterback. So I did it all in high school.
You were originally slated to handle kickoff duties in 2002, when you took over placekicking to become our all-purpose kicker partway through the season, what went through your mind?
First thing was, “Wow, came quicker than I had imagined…” But it was awesome to have all that thrown at you at one time and have that whole job. It’s all your job and it’s yours to have. It felt good and it was a good experience.
How much of being a placekicker is mental and how much is physical?
I’d have to say it’s 50/50. A lot of it is physical, you’ve got to be able to kick, but the mental aspect plays a huge role in kicking.
You’ve said a few times in interviews that you’re thankful to your teammates for always having your back and always encouraging you, can you tell me what the “Trojan Family” means to you within the team?
It means everything. With a job like kicking, it’s like I said before, it’s 50% mental and 50% physical. And the team is always supporting you, never giving you crap, always supporting you through good and bad times. It keeps you mentally confident to know that the team is backing you up and therefore you don’t have any added stress on your life and your job. The family amongst the team, it means a lot, just a great deal to me.
Was there one thing that a teammate or a coach said to you that has really stuck in your mind and changed your preparation or outlook on the game?
Not really, they’ve always told me, “Don’t worry about anything. People make mistakes, just don’t dwell on them, just move on because what’s happened in the past is in the past…can’t change it.” So I just move on from there.
Walk us through a Ryan Killeen field goal. What goes through your mind when you walk up there and what is the routine you go through before you set up for a kick?
I just walk up there. I pick my target on the kicking net behind the uprights. I take my three steps back, two steps over. I look at my target again, take a deep breath, and then I give my holder the signal that I’m ready. He does the cadence and I go through and kick it.
And the hug with Boskovich and Malone afterward last year?
It was just something that naturally happened. It was nothing we had planned, it was just something that naturally happened and it became a routine. We didn’t even think about it, just became part of a routine that took place after making field goals.
With kickers, it seems like a lot of times, fans focus upon a player’s miscues, quickly forgetting times when a kicker has been an integral part to a victory, what is that like to deal with that on a daily basis throughout the season?
Well, you just tune it out…because a lot of times, people that are criticizing don’t know anything about kicking so they see a missed field goal and immediately criticize when if they were ever to sit out there and try and kick a field goal they’d gain respect and understand the game of football. They see a missed field goal somewhere in the game and if you end up losing, they immediately blame the kicker. It’s tough to deal with, but for me, I tune it out because I know in my heart that the people who are criticizing…criticize because they are able to [as spectators] and I just tune it out.
You had a huge turnaround in terms of success with your field goals this season, was there something that caused this change? You were practically automatic, especially at the end of the season.
You know, my job was in jeopardy. I knew I either did it or lost my job. I told myself that my confidence is still here. I know I’m a great kicker. I know I’m one of the best. I knew that all I had to do was just stay mentally there, my stroke would come around and I knew I would start making them. So I just stopped worrying about it, just started going out there and kicking knowing that I’m going to make it, and things started working for me and I just got in a rhythm and I closed it out 100%, 9 for 9.
You were 12 of 12 this year kicking field goals against UCLA, Cal, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma, what does that mean to you to be so good in such big games?
I think it means a lot, I mean to pull through and be 100% on huge, critical, pressure games for a team that was #1 at the beginning for those tight games where we needed to win to continue, it meant a lot to me and I think it meant a lot for the team.
Is pressure in “real life,” outside of the football field, easy to shake off after all you’ve done?
Yeah, yeah…You start to realize that there’s pressure everywhere, but there’s a lot of pressure on the field. You get used to pressure and you start dealing with pressure situations on the outside and it’s just no big deal.
Is that how you think football has just really prepared you for life outside of the football field?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you’ve dealt with many pressure situations and it makes you grow stronger as a person, mentally, physically, in all pressure situations. I think it’s helped me out a lot.
What did it mean to have Coach Slutak around the past couple years and what can you take away from your time with him?
It was great to actually have a guy who was hands-on the whole time. He was always there to let you know what mistakes you’re making, there to break down film everyday. He knew a lot of what he was talking about. He was just a great, great aspect added to the special teams unit. And as you can tell, the past two years, special teams has been unbelievable compared to SC’s past and I think “Slu” is the one who should take credit for that.
Anything you’d like to say to Coach Slutak while he’s down at Ole Miss?
I wish him the best of luck. He definitely has a job now that he’s earned. He deserves it. He’s been a GA for years and now he’s a Special Teams coordinator for Coach O and a great organization down there. I just wish him the best of luck and I’m sure he’ll do great.
What’s next for Ryan Killeen?
Just training right now, got an agent who is going to work for me, I’m going to work for myself. Hopefully you’ll see me in the NFL.
Anything else that you’d like to say to the USC Football fans, Ryan Killeen fans, or your fellow teammates before you step back from the USC Football spotlight?
Just thanks for everything; it’s been a fun, fun three years. It’s been great; it’s been the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ll never forget these years and Fight On!