It's game week, the start of your final season at UCLA...
"That's unbelievable. This is my last one. I can't believe it went by that fast. I think about it everyday ... like, man. It's crazy. If it doesn't work out how I need it to, it's going to be the last time I get to play football. That's scary. I can't let that happen."
That's the thing, it's on you...
"Yeah, right. I can't let that happen. I refuse to let that happen."
What kind of a push or motivation does that give you going into the season?
"Every game is a job interview – 12 of them, trying to push for 13. I mean, every game, regardless of how you feel, just go. You've got to go – there's no tired, no anything. You've got to go. You've got to win as many as you can because they like to draft winners, so if you want to be a winner, you've got to lead and the rest of the team will come with you."
You've been in that leadership role for a while now...
"When it comes to football, you put the pads on and it's time to play on the field, it's just.. it's just different. It's a different feeling. I don't know, I'm a Gemini, too, they say we've got split personalities so I don't know, you snap the helmet on and it's like, different. It's time to go to battle. Like, if I had to I could just carry everybody with me. I feel like I always know what to say, I have to have something to say to pick everybody up, just to let them know that we've got to keep fighting, we can't quit. I'm real big on, all for one and one for all. I tell the defense every game, we're one heart beat. We beat together. We have to play together. And if everyone is flying to that ball and doing their jobs, we shouldn't lose. There's no way we can."
How is it different this year than last?
"I can't explain it, I just feel like we're going to be dominant. Even though we lost Brigham (Harwell), I think we're just going to be dominant against the run, against the pass. I know we've got some young DBs, but I mean, pass rush and pass coverage go hand in hand. If they don't have time they can't get the ball off. And I know we're going to stop the run. That's what we do. You've got to stop the run first. If you let someone run all over you, that's kind of disrespectful. You can never win. I think the key is to stop the run first and then play hard for each other. If we play our keys and execute properly we should be pretty good."
The rushing defense numbers last year were not as good as the past. Was that fatigue at some point?
"It could have been due to fatigue. Then at other times, if we got hit with a big run, it was because one guy would kind of be out of his spot, we'd lose the edge of the defense. Or it would just be missed tackles. We just missed tackles, whether from linebackers or the secondary, we had games where there were a lot of missed tackles. But I think we've cleaned that up now. I'm expecting much better."
You guys didn't do a lot of live hitting in camp, though...
"We didn't go live. We did a lot of thud hitting, but we didn't go live too often."
Is that a concern?
"Not at all. I mean, you know how to tackle, right? I know how to tackle. That's the thing. In the past we've had good defenses, but this year, it's just different. Regardless if the guys are young or inexperienced, we kind of all feel like vets. Like we know what we're doing. We just have that confidence. If we never tackled we're still going to know how to do it. It's just run and hit. If you miss the tackle, don't worry because we're all coming."
That experience, you were working on that over the summer, sacrificing some of your reps to make sure the younger guys got in there in 7-on-7s and everything...
"We walked through the blitzes and different things like that, everything that we did, just to try to get them a feel for it, see a pass and where it's going, where they're supposed to be. If you think about the starting 11, the most inexperienced guy is Aaron Hester. He's probably the only redshirt freshman that's never had any game action that's out there. But if you look at him and talk to him and watch him play, you'd never know it. I have the utmost confidence in him. I'll put him on anyone and I'd still take him. I'm not worried about him at all."
Everyone else in that first 11...
"Look at the other corner - Alterraun Verner has been doing it for years now. We have two very solid corners and our safeties are experienced and have played before. The d-line is probably the most experienced group and the most dominating group with Brian Price and Jerzy Siewierski, down in the linebackers we've all gotten bigger and stronger since last year, definitely. We're more knowledgeable about the game. We feel like we play better, as far as together. We communicate better. That's still improving, as (camp) has gone on. It'll be tough to just beat us. You have to tie our hands back to beat us up. It's going to be tough to beat us."
I don't think tying your hands behind your back will be enough...
"Yeah, our legs still work, so we're still coming after you.'"
That confidence level...higher than it's been in the past?
"I've always been confident, but it's … all 11 guys on the defense kind of just feel it. It's like a swagger. They always say, you look good, you feel good, you play good. I always think about it like this – the greatest boxer of all time, if you ask anybody, they'll probably say it's Muhammad Ali and you think about it, like, what made him so great? He won fights. He lost fights. Other guys won all of their fights. What made him the greatest? Because he said he was. He said he was the greatest. He believed he was the greatest. So everybody else said he was the greatest. If you don't believe in yourself first, then who will? I think all 11 of us believe that we can have the best defense in the conference and we feel we will. It's like, if you believe in yourself and you're working hard for something, all 11 of us, it's going to be hard to stop us."
Best defense in the conference, that's...
"They all told me, before the (Pac-10) media day, to let them know we're coming. I told them, ‘I'm going to tell everybody that we're going to be the best defense in the conference, so we have to be ready to back it up' and nobody said, ‘Are you sure you want to say that? Or, wow.' It was, like, ‘Let's go...tell them. We're not going to fail.'"
That was the players telling you that?
"Yeah, the players. It was the players. Every day. It's like, every day we go out there against our offense and with camp you get tired and stuff like that, but when it's a team period, when all 11 of us get together, everybody just wants to win. It's like we're going to a fight – so what if we're tired. We don't want to lose this fight. It's 'Come on, man, it's time to fight again. Let's fight.' And it's like everybody is ready to fight."
So you're going through all the individual and other periods just to get into team...
"Once you get together, all 11 are together, we know we're all here. We're doing this for one another. We can't quit on each other – it's time to give it what you've got."
So, how was that message received at media day?
"I haven't heard anything about it. I don't know if I made anyone mad, but who cares? As long as the people I play with, my circle, my 11 are happy, then I'm happy. They were happy about it, of course. They were ready to go. I told them, ‘I put it out there, so we're a family, you've got to help me back it up.' So that's what we're going to do."
Has the defense been this tight, this bonded in the time you've been here?
"Nah. We've been tight and we've done things like that, but I've never actually known it to be all 11 guys. I don't know a tighter group. We've been in this system – it was Coach Walker's, now it's Coach Bullough's – since we were freshmen. All of my years. So, we know it. We understand it. We grew into it together. We've been here. Datone Jones and Hester are the youngest guys, but they came in with fire, ready to play, with a swagger, so they buy into it and they're ready to go. Everybody has bought into the theory and the goals. It's football first, and we want to win, and everybody is in tune with that.
"It makes me feel like I could have a better season individually. I set out to play good, but with everybody else playing so hard with me, it's hard not to have a good season. I watch a lot of Ray Lewis and they say Ray Lewis elevates the play of everybody else that's on the field with him, the defense, and if we elevate each other's play week after week, we're just going to continue to grow and get better. I just think that's how we are. That's what we're going to do. That's how we approach each other. We get fired up. If you make a mistake or you're looking tired, it's like, ‘Come on, you're not going to quit on, me are you? We're in this together - all for one and one for all.' That's how we approach it, like one big family. And you never let your family get beat up on, right? That's how we look at it."
It's obvious you're committed to that. There was a senior defensive player here a while back who thought the way to get to Sunday's was tackling 20 guys a game, no matter what his assignment on a play was...
"You don't chase the plays, you do your job and let the plays come to you. If you chase something, you never get it. That's why they always say, don't chase money, chase your dreams. If you chase your dreams the money will come. If you just do your job, then you'll make a play. That's when you start messing up, when guys get over excited and try to do too much – ‘Oh, I'm going to go get this guy.' Well, that's his guy. Trust him to do that, because now your guy is wide open and they're throwing it to him. If you do your job, the plays will come to you. They're going to have to out the ball somewhere, so plays will be there. You can't make every play in a game anyway, but if you run to the ball, there will be enough."
And you've got all 11 guys there...
"That's the first thing we say – just do your job, run to the ball, help each other out, communicate. We're always talking and making sure everyone knows what they're doing, where they're supposed to be. Last year I met with the whole defense before every game, went through all the calls, checks, made sure if anyone had any questions, so we're going to do that again this year to make sure we're all on the same page so we can just go out there and have fun and remember it's a game, so enjoy it."
How are you going to measure success for this defense this year?
:No. 1 defense in the conference. That's the goal. Anything else is not really successful. I mean, we could have a good year if we're not No. 1, but success would be No. 1. Defense wins championships, and we're going to put that to the test and see if we can be No. 1 in this conference. That's what we're working for."
Should be a pretty interesting start, with San Diego State...
"Yeah, we start off with San Diego State. If they don't score, they don't win, so our ultimate goal is to keep them from scoring. We'll see how it works when we get live action again, against somebody else. It's a whole different tempo, so...
You're looking forward to that, obviously.
"I'm excited. It's my last chance to do it. You've got to take advantage when you put it like that. If it doesn't go right, I could never play again. That's crazy. That would be a terrible way to end – because it's my fault. I'd never want it to be my fault. If I'm hurt and can't play, OK. But I'd never want it to be because I didn't perform well enough."
Has anybody, a former player or anyone, been in your ear about that?
"I remind myself every day."
Reggie Carter, the senior linebacker, answered questions at the weekly press conference, talking…