Ryan Kalil saw action in six games as a true freshman before earning the starting job last year when he was part of a national championship team and had the rare distinction of snapping to a Heisman Trophy winner. Ryan was also named the winner of the 2004 USC Courage Award and this spring he was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list for 2005.
WeAreSC sat down with Kalil, a sociology major at USC, to get his thoughts on a variety of issues related to Trojan football.
You’re the defending national champions yet there is always room for improvement. What is the biggest challenge you see heading into next season?
Coach Davis and Coach Orgeron did such a great job of setting the energy level every day at practice and we’re going to be responsible for maintaining that energy they taught us. That’s going to be the biggest challenge this year is continuing to bring that work ethic and energy because that’s the reason for our success….our practices. There is no other reason. Our off-season and our practices are what make us successful because Coach Carroll makes the preparation work harder than the games. We play against the best defense in the country and we practice the details over and over again until we get them right.
After many years where the offensive line was considered something of a question mark by Trojan standards it now appears to be an area of strength.
Over the years SC has always had a tradition of being a smashmouth football team. When I got here there was some question about our ability to do that but the year before the team had gone to the Orange Bowl and won it. My freshman year we went to the Rose Bowl and won that. In my sophomore year we went back to the Orange Bowl and won that again so every time someone put a question mark on us we overcame it. We basically didn’t pay any attention to the talk, Coach Carroll has the philosophy to only worry about what we can control and that’s what we did.
The talent level on the o-line is as good as we’ve ever seen it with the ability to go two-deep at every spot with quality players.
I think it helps as a group with our depth because guys don’t have set positions. You’ve got someone breathing down your neck and he’s a good buddy, a good athlete, a good football player and he’s striving just as hard as you are.
Talk about the camaraderie on the offensive line.
Offensive linemen are a unique fraternity. The meatheads. We’re all unique guys and that’s been the beauty of what Coach Carroll has done in recruiting. There is only one Fred Matua, there’s only one Sam Baker, one Kyle Williams. Coach Carroll has made it clear what kind of guy he wants. He might take a guy who is a little smaller but he’s tough and he’s a fighter and Coach likes his personality. Moving Fred from the defensive line to the offensive line to bring some energy, that’s an example of how Coach Carroll gets it. He wants guys who are going to get it done. He doesn’t want guys who are going to be focused on themselves or who aren’t going to be able to come together within the group. We’re a real solid bunch. We’ve fighters and we believe in this system.
You are also able to joke with each other. You pulled a pretty good April Fool’s Day joke on one of your own.
People ask what kind of guy Coach Carroll is and this is a perfect example of how he knows when to balance work and fun. Ever since I got here there has been a little verbal sparring between myself and Kyle Williams against Fred Matua and Winston Justice. It’s all good, clean trash talk and it’s pretty funny the way they do it. Over the years we’ve tried to take it up a notch a couple times and one night after a late class I was walking on campus and I saw this music group, kind of like a barbershop quartet, and I told them about an idea I had. They agreed to take part and I ran it by Coach Carroll to see if we could do it and he said yes. On the day before April Fool’s, I figured it would be too obvious to do it on April Fool’s Day, Coach Carroll got up in front of the team before our usual pre-practice meeting and he acted pissed off. The room got real quiet and he started talking about how mad he was, about how one of our own was not coming back, a guy he thought loved football was turning his back on the team. With that he brought me out from the back, I was dressed real nice in a suit and you could see the look of shock on some of the guys faces as they were trying to figure out what was going on. I told them it was something that just happened, that I loved football but music was my real passion so I had decided to sign with Columbia Records to be a part of a signing group. Coach Carroll said I might as well give everyone a taste of what we sounded like so the singers came out from the back and we started singing “In the Still of the Night”. As we got into the song though I had changed some of the lyrics to includes jabs at Fred. When that happened the whole room erupted and players were howling with laughter. Fred just sat there because he knew he had been worked.
That’s a great example of showing how this team has as much fun as any team I’ve ever seen.
It’s one of those things that helps bring a team together and Coach Carroll understands that. Don’t get me wrong, every day we work on getting better but it’s done in a way that makes it fun. Football is a year-round sport and you need to find ways to break it up sometimes.
Is music something you might look to pursue in the future?
My mom and my sister are both singers, my sister is 18 and she just signed a recording deal. She is beautiful and very, very talented. Music isn’t something I’ve necessarily aspired to do but it’s something I’ve picked up being around singers. I’m no Frank Sinatra but it’s safe to say I can carry a tune. I think the producing side is pretty cool too and I’ve always been fairly talented on the computer in terms of mixing and stuff.
OK. Let’s talk some football. Take us through your assignments as a center from the time one play is done to the time the next play begins.
First thing I do is I find the ball and try to get the guys set. We line up our huddle seven and a half yards off the line of scrimmage so I’m trying to find that ball and get that huddle set as fast as I can. When guys get tired they can wander a little so it’s my job to make sure they are where they need to be. Once the spot it set I put up my hand and yell “rack em” to kind of bring things together. It’s very important to bring discipline to the huddle. Having a disciplined huddle can serve as an intimidation factor if a team looks over a sees a disciplined huddle or well disciplined line stances, guys notice that and it tells them this is a very serious football team. The next thing that happens is the quarterback calls the play. The first thing he says is the formation so I’ve got to make sure I remember that because our formation helps figure out which is the strong side and helps us know what defense they are in. I try to remind myself as soon as we break the huddle of the play and the snap count because those are the two most important things. I’m not gonna lie, I did forget the snap count once but it turned into a good play.
As I approach the line I call out the defense and point out which linebacker we are responsible for. The reason the center makes the line calls is because he’s right in the middle and he can see everything. For the most part everyone knows what they are doing but because I have that visual balance I can make certain reminders. You get to the ball and you start directing traffic. One of the things I love about our quarterbacks is that they wait until we are in our stance and done calling out our signals before they begin their cadence. They understand to give us enough time to do our job. After that it’s just a matter of snapping the ball. I’d like to sit here and tell you snapping is something that we think about each play to try and get a good snap but after you’ve done it so many times it becomes natural and you don’t even think about it. Before each practice we always take snaps with the quarterbacks; snaps to the left, snaps to the right, snap for pass block. Little things like that are what make us better. We’ll go over the most simple base play until we’re blue in the face.
At this time last year you had yet to win the starting job and there was a lot of speculation surrounding an incoming center who happened to be the National Player of the Year. How did you handle that situation and prepare yourself to the point where you eventually won the job?
Coming out of high school I would have been more nervous and I would have been thinking about the wrong kinds of things. Because I had already been here for a year I had learned a lot of the philosophies that Coach Carroll teaches to benefit the individual, not just the team. You strive to perfect your job, you perfect your craft on the football field. You don’t worry about anything else, you only worry about what you can do and what you can control. Every year he tells us “we’re not going to worry about the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl, we’re only going to worry about this game right in front of us. We can’t look two weeks ahead, we need to focus on this week and then we can look to next week. To break it down even more, we can only work on what we can work on today in this practice. We can’t worry about tomorrow’s practice, let’s just try to get better today and work hard today.” When you have that attitude as a football team, you begin to develop it as a football player.
Everyone was asking me “what are you going to do about this guy coming in?” and I said “I can’t do anything. I don’t know who he is, I don’t know what he does. What I do know is that I can get stronger in this area, I can get faster in that area, these are the things I can do to make myself better.” That’s the way I felt about it each day, each workout, each practice. I just sat back and let the media people talk about Jeff. I love Jeff and he’s a great guy, a lot of people wondered how we would get along but I’m not like that. None of the guys on the line are like that. We took Jeff in, I treated him like my equal, I didn’t hold anything back when it came to teaching him what I had learned. It’s that competing attitude they teach us here, you strive to want to compete. You learn to love the fight because of the way they teach it. I can’t pinpoint what it is but it’s something Coach Carroll has made all his coaches learn how to do. Football really does teach you a lot of the lessons of life from a competing aspect and how you need to fight every day.
Mike Patterson recently said that you were the toughest competitor he’s faced on the field. What are your thoughts when you hear something like that?
I really though that was a great compliment from Mike, I thought it was so cool of him to say that. I don’t know if he knows that I tell everybody the same thing about him. I think that’s what made us better because every day Mike and I went all out and then after practice we were always real cool. Once you get in the locker room he is smiling and I’m smiling and everything is good. The kind of respect that we have for each other, I think that comes from the fact that both of us came on the practice field ready to work every day.
To hear more from Kalil, check the Summer issue of the WeAreSC magazine with a cover story “Restoring the Line” on the tradition of offensive line play at USC. The Summer issue will begin shipping to subscribers later this week.