What made you decide to go to USC?
When I was making my decision to attend a university, my mother’s opinion really affected my decision. She grew up 2 minutes away from the campus. It was a dream of hers to attend USC, but it didn’t work out. If I could relive my mother’s dream for her, I was more than happy to accommodate. I originally was leaning more towards Notre Dame and Michigan. I also knew that scholastically, a degree from USC was very credible.
You were an actor before you even began your football career. Tell us about this experience.
When I was younger, I had an older brother who played football who got really banged up. My mother tried to protect me and didn’t allow me to play any physical sports. But I had so much energy as a youngster. I saw one of my friends on TV one day, and told my mom I wanted to be on TV. I got picked up by an agency, and had some success. I have done a lot of stuff with Nickelodeon and Warner Bros., I was on E.R. and was a regular for two and a half seasons on 7th Heaven (the neighbor of Simon).
You got an offer from Paul Hackett. Shortly thereafter, he was let go, and was replaced by Pete Carroll, who honored your offer. Tell us about this experience.
After Coach Hackett left, I was really unsure if I would stay. My mother told me to pray about it. When Coach Carroll came, I knew about him because he was in the NFL, and I got excited about the idea of playing for him. When he decided to honor my scholarship, I just felt that I was going to prove to him that he made a good decision in sticking with me, like I decided to stick with him. I could have decommitted and gone to another school, but I am so glad I stayed because God had a bigger plan than I could ever imagine for myself and the Trojans.
You mention God and praying numerous times. How big of role does God and your faith play in your life?
God is my life. My mother brought me up fearing God. It helps me be the person that I am. To love my neighbors as I love myself. I strive to be like Jesus. He was perfect. I am far from perfect, but I try to be like Him in the sense that He never sinned. I know it is a very hard goal to live by, but it also helps you be structured with the kinds of decisions you make, and I credit all of my athletic abilities as well as everything I do to the blessings that God has given me. If you ever see me, I pray before I do anything I think is important.
You went through numerous position changes during your career at USC, most recently from wide receiver to cornerback this past year. What position do you feel most comfortable at?
It is very true that my career at USC was like a pinball. I bounced around from position to position. I find it a compliment that the coaches were that comfortable with my athleticism, feeling that I was flexible enough to contribute wherever I was put. Personally, I prefer playing cornerback. There’s just something about the individual battle that goes on every play at that position when you’re lined up across a receiver that just gets my competitive juices flowing.
It was a long road to the point where you were a starter at one of the most memorable games this past season, Notre Dame. Some players might have transferred. What drove you to stay?
Well, anything that is worth having is worth fighting for and the epitome of being a Trojan is fighting on no matter what. I say that because we have team rules. There is no whining or complaining. Although for years I was unhappy with the limited role I had on the team, that still didn’t stop me from strapping my boots on and going to work every day. Every day I tapped the ceiling I was ready to work and prove to my teammates that I could fight through this adversity. And it definitely was an adverse situation basically just sitting on the bench and only being featured through special teams.
When you first come to college you never think that your role will be limited to special teams. You always have these grand dreams of becoming an All-American, but that obviously wasn’t God’s plan for me. I think I am a living testament to hard work and diligence.
I know that the colors that we wear are cardinal and gold. We’re taught that we wear cardinal because, if you’re hurting, struggling, or bleeding on the battlefield, your opponent will never see. We wear gold because gold is what every man desires. And you work hard to attain the gold, be it for your future, for your family. So, blood, sweat and tears, show no sign of weakness, to achieve your gold. I thought about that every day when I suited up, until I was able to get the success I had been dreaming of, and it made it that much sweeter when I finally got it, the mutual respect of my teammates and coaches as a starter.
What is your favorite play from your career at USC? And your favorite game?
The interception at the Arizona State game felt really good, but my favorite play came at Notre Dame during a critical moment when, on special teams, I had to make a tackle on a punt and I can remember getting down there as fast as I could, and then Zbikowski, the returner, made me miss a little bit. I didn’t exactly make the tackle, but I forced him into my help, and that was a big momentum change in the game. When we stopped him there, we stopped him that drive, and then our offense went down and scored.
My favorite game had to be Arizona State because they were talking a lot of trash and were actually leading for a majority of the game. The players were celebrating before the game was over. I can remember the crowd chanting “Overrated!” and I was like, don’t they understand that you can’t win the game in the first, second or third quarter, and that games are won in the 4th quarter when you finish? We came out in the second half ready to play. I can remember playing an almost perfect game. It felt effortless. I think I was definitely prepared for that game.
Tell us about your competitions with Andre Woodert. We understand you pushed each other to be better.
Andre is one of my best friends. He is a workaholic. We constantly call upon each other to bring the day’s best effort. If it was a tackling drill and he had the ball and I had to tackle him, we were going to go 110%. We always tried to push ourselves over the threshold, even if it was just running gassers. I can remember a time when I was completely out of breath and my brain was telling me I didn’t have it. I looked over the corner of my eye and I saw Andre, and he looked like he didn’t have it either. Then my natural competitiveness came and I was thinking, just beat Andre. After the Coach blew the whistle, I went as fast as I could and I could hear heavy breathing behind me, and sure enough, there was Andre, right behind me. We finished at almost the exact same time.
You’re known as a mentor on the team. How did you develop into this role?
I was very close with Cary Harris and Josh Pinkard when they were youngsters. I let Dominique Byrd stay with me when he was new. I introduced him to our Bible Chaplain, Michael Sylvester, who is a short man of stature, but his heart is the size of the universe. He was also an athlete and he can relate to what athletes go through, and helps to apply the Bible to athletic life.
When I was a true freshman, I can remember Troy Polomalu taking me under his wing and showing me the ropes. Kris Richard and Darrell Rideaux were guys who also helped me to understand the work ethic that was necessary to get the success I wanted while also treating people like they are people. Once I understood, I felt it was my duty to pass on the information.
With draft day coming up, what are you doing to prepare and where will you be on draft day?
The rest of this week I plan on praying and rejoicing, thanking God in advance for the blessings that He is going to give me, and for the blessings that He already has. I am very grateful to be in the position that I am in, to be able to help my family and take my dream to the next level. I will be spending a lot of time with my family during draft day, and being as close with them as possible before I go away, because I don’t know where I’ll be drafted. My schedule might get quite hectic in the months to come.
You have an acting background, and two degrees from USC. Do you see yourself turning to either of these once your football career ends?
At the moment I feel like I want to be a motivational speaker. I feel I can share my story of my trials and my triumphs, maybe with inner city youth who at the moment might seem very lost and struggling for existence. I need to get with these youngsters and let them know there is a bigger plan for them and let them know there are tools and resources they can use to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones. I’ve always had a passion for people. There is almost never a time when I’m walking when someone in need asks for spare change and I don’t give it to him if I had it. My heart tells me that what it wants to do is help people. As far as acting, it isn’t something that you forget how to do. If ever I have another opportunity to get behind the screen, I’m sure, time willing, I’ll take advantage, if the opportunity presents itself.
Any last words you want to share with Trojan fans?
To my Trojan Family, I thank you for the support, and for supporting guys like me who haven’t always been featured in the program. I thank you for all of the memories, the fun times, the learning experiences. I am happy to be a part of everything, the wins and the losses. It was a wonderful experience for me, and there will be many memories to come. We’re part of the Trojan Family so we will always be connected, and I hope everyone feels the same way. Thank you.