It's been a dramatic offseason with plenty of coaching turnover and players leaving. How has that affected you and the other linebackers?
"You know, it hasn't really affected, I don't think, most of the team at all. As for the linebackers, we're all basically still the same. We've lost a couple of guys, but we still have the same coaches. Coach Norton was hired full time, and we got Rocky back. As for the whole team, we're not even concentrating on that. We got a bunch of good NFL coaches coming in that know what they're doing, great guys, that already fit well with the team. It's a pretty good situation that we're in. We've got some fresh blood in, and we're just excited for spring ball to get here."
What do feel you have to do to replace the leadership Lofa and Groots provided?
"I'm not trying to go out of my way and go above and beyond what I can do, with my personality, but I have some big shoes to fill. Groots, you know, wasn't necessarily the most vocal leader out there, but he led by example. And Lofa was one of the vocal leaders on the defense because he was the mike linebacker and that's their job to talk and get us all set up. I'm just trying to lead by example and help out wherever help is needed. I just try to go out there, try and step up, and lead the way for everyone."
What does it feel like to be the lone returning starter and new leader of the linebackers?
"I've been thinking about it; it kind of just hit me a little while back. I had a meeting with Coach Seto and Coach Norton, and they were telling me that now I am the big guy, the head guy on the linebacking crew. It's kind of weird to think about, but we have a great supporting cast and a lot of new guys coming in with a lot of great potential. We've got guys like Colin Ashton who's been around forever who knows what to expect and what to demand from everyone. I think everyone on the linebacking corps is going to do a great job."
Who are the up and comers at the linebacker spot to look out for this spring?
"I think everyone. Everyone's got great potential. I've been working out with most of them, and they're just getting faster, bigger, and stronger. I think everyone's going to surprise a lot of people. I would just look out for our whole corps."
What do you think are the qualities necessary to be a linebacker for USC?
"I think you can tell by the way Coach Carroll recruits, it's about speed and not necessarily size. And that's the way his whole defense is run too. You have to be fast and you have to have good instincts on the ball and be able to move well laterally. We obviously don't have the biggest linebackers; I am the tallest, but I'm definitely not the biggest. I think just being able to move and having good instincts and speed. It's all about speed now."
What do you feel you need to improve upon for next season?
"I was talking with Coach Rocky the other day about stuff that I could do to get better. I've already gained some weight. I'm up to 235 right now, so I've gained 10 pounds this offseason. I'm trying to get bigger and get stronger and working hard in the weight room. I'm watching film and reading the offense more and understanding their side of the ball and what they're going to do and their tendencies."
What is your most memorable game/moment at USC?
"It definitely has to be the National Championship."
Now I knew you were going to say that, so aside from the Orange Bowl?
"I'd probably say the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl has such a great tradition and history in it, and that's what USC was built on. Just being able to go out there and start my second season and start in the Rose Bowl was a great big deal for me."
Tell us what goes through your mind during a typical defensive play?
"There's so much stuff that goes through my head. First, you have to get the call. You have to realize what the formation is, in a split second you have to realize what they're doing, what tendencies they have in that formation. You have to think about down and distance, and just try and break it down step by step. Then you've got to have your mind kind of clear just being able to play, and you don't hear the crowd, you don't pay attention to anything else, you just kind of concentrate and you're in the zone, and then plays are made."
Do you sometimes feel the defense doesn't get the credit it deserves?
"Yeah, but it's like that in any sport you play. Every team I've been a part of, in any sport you play, defense gets shunned a little bit."
There was talk a couple of years ago of you moving to play tight end. What goes through a player's mind when he's asked to switch positions?
"What was going through my mind was that I was going to try and help out the team and do what's best for the team. I didn't play any offense in high school, so it was definitely new for me, but I had come in playing safety and then they moved me to linebacker, so I did pretty well at that so far. I think change is good, so if they needed me to play wherever, I'd go and play there too, so it doesn't matter."
Like you mentioned, you've also played some safety in certain situations (like vs. Notre Dame in 2003) Which do you like better, safety or outside linebacker?
"Well, they're a lot the same, but in the same aspect, they're different. In our defense, the safety is partly a linebacker too. If I could play both, it doesn't really matter to me, just get out there and play."
What was the coaching change like from Holt to Seto and Norton? How was the transition?
"For me, it was actually really smooth, as it was for all of the linebackers. Rocky was my coach at safety earlier that year, so we got a chance to get a feel for each other and develop a great relationship. It was a sad thing when Coach Holt left, but it was also a great thing getting Rocky too. He's a great coach, and he has great potential. He knows the defense as well as any coach around. Having Coach Norton out there too, he's already played in a program with the exact same defense that we run for 13 some odd years in the NFL. He's great too; he's got so much knowledge and a feel for the game that he can help you out in any situation."
Do you have any personal goals for next season?
"I haven't really marked them out yet, but I'm going to try to do the best I can. I'm going to try and make All-American, All Pac-10, all that stuff. I just want to try and play up to my full potential and go out and have a great season."
What's the best thing about being a part of the USC football team?
"Just being National Champs. Everyone knows who you are and everyone respects you. Everyone thinks it's a great team to be a part of, and it's great to be associated with such a great groups of guys, coaches, and tradition that USC has."
What kind of mark do you want to leave for your senior year? How do you want to be remembered?
"(Laughs) Jeez, it's already senior year we're talking about. I think just the guy who went out there and gave it his all and tried his hardest cause that's what I'm all about, trying to go out there and give it everything I got. I want to try and lead by example and try and help out the guys underneath me and try to lead the way for them this season."
What do you think of the star-studded freshman linebacking class coming in? Have you seen them on film and met them yet?
"I've met a couple of them, but I've seen them all on film. They look pretty good. They're all pretty fast, pretty physical. It'll be a great group of linebackers next year, so it'll be fun to be a part of."
What's the best thing about playing defense?
"Probably being able to go out there and hit people, but that's obviously something anyone can do on the field on any play. I think it's being a part of Coach Carroll's defense. Everyone knows about Coach Carroll. Everyone knows about USC. Everyone knows how dominating our defense is, so being a part of that surrounded by all the star players on the defense, and offense, but defensively, being a part of that whole defensive corps, a lot of people know what it's about and who we are, so that's pretty cool."
Why do you think Coach Carroll has been so successful not only in recruiting but in the whole four years of bringing this program back to an elite status?
"He's just a great, great guy to play for. I talked to hundreds of coaches when I was trying to figure out where I was going to go, and the one thing that stuck out in my mind about him was that he's not a politician. He's not going to tell you what you want to hear, he's going to tell it to you straight. I think a lot of people really respect that about him. He's just a great guy to be around. He's funny; we have fun all the time on the team, but you know when he gets serious, we get serious. He's surrounded himself with great coaches and great players and just an all around great program to be a part of. And it's all thanks to him setting everything up. He's doing pretty well for us."
Final question, and I know I'm putting you on the spot here – Which coach do you like better, Coach Seto or Norton?
"(Laughs) I can't say that. They both have their great factors about them. They're kind of both different too; they're the ying and the yang. One's loud, one's a little more quiet. They're just both great guys. They do go hand in hand pretty well though. They work very well together. It's a great team to have coaching me."
Thanks Dallas, and congratulations on the National Championship and good luck next season.