Coach Cutcliffe has talked a lot about the team's weight loss goals. What's your contribution been?
I've actually been in the negative there. I've gained 15 pounds since last season, and it's all good weight. This season I'm the right size for a linebacker. I'm 6'3 and 230lbs, and I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life. The weight loss program was mainly for our offensive and defensive lines and some of our linebackers.
Is that the biggest difference you've noticed physically?
Overall, I'm just stronger and I'm in the best shape I've been in since I got to Duke. I feel better all around.
What's it been like working with the new coaches?
The new coaching staff has been really great for us. They have come in and really gone to work. The great thing about them is they focus on the little things that really make the difference. And they hold everyone accountable and everyone is treated as an equal. They don't care who you are or where you came from. Everybody is on equal footing and nobody is any different. It doesn't matter if you were on the first team or the fifth team, you have to come to work every day.
An example of how they hold everyone accountable is when the coaches talk about going through the line, not to the line. It's a little thing, but some guys were slowing up when they got to the end of their runs. That doesn't work with Coach Cutcliffe. When he says through the line, he means you run hard through the line; then you can slow down.
My position coach, Coach [Jim] Collins, has worked with several NFL linebackers and has helped guys get to the league. I trust him completely to make me the best player I can be, and I'm going to do whatever he asks of me so I can get where I need to be.
What's the first big change you notice with the new coaches?
They talked about stepping of your comfort zone, which is something I hadn't heard before. We were doing conditioning in January and I could do the drills all right. But when I came off the field, the coaches asked me if I was OK. I told them I was, and they told me that I was too comfortable. That if I was comfortable with things coming off the field then I had something I wasn't giving. I really took that to heart and have tried to literally leave it all out there on the field since that talk.
And what is the biggest change as a whole that you've noticed?
The conditioning of the entire team is great right now. We look like a football team this year. Guys are in the best shape they've been in since they got here. Overall we look and feel great.
How is this year's Spring Practice going to be different from the ones you've been apart of in the past?
For me it's the last Spring practice I'll be a part of. As a senior I want to go out there and start realizing what I've worked for over the last three years. We have been talking about turning around the program for three years and this is our year to show we're not just about talking. For the seniors, a winning season would mean so much. To finally achieve what we've worked toward would be very special. When we singed with Duke we all knew what we were getting into, and to have a chance to go from the one win and no win seasons to a possible winning record and a bowl game would be something we always remember.
What's your most memorable Coach Cutcliffe moment to date?
I don't really have a particular moment, but there's a change in the way things are with him. When he speaks he has everyone's attention. He and the other coaches speak with so much conviction, and they have done it all before so if there was anyone who wasn't sure, they are certain that he is the right man to turn this program around. One thing he did say to us that has stuck is practice make permanent. Not practice makes perfect, which everyone has heard, but permanent. It's really something that's true though. Bad habits in practice will lead to bad habits that are impossible to break.
What's the biggest difference in the defensive unit as a whole that you've noticed so far with Coach Cutcliffe: We're going to be a lot faster and we're going to concentrate on swarming to the ball. In years past we've had two or three guys getting to the ball carrier. This year the coaches are making sure we know that all eleven players had better be piling on.
What's a conditioning memory that sticks out for you?
We were supposed to be doing either eight or ten 20 yard sprints. The coaches told us if we did eight perfect 20s then we'd be done. We have 75 guys out there doing this and it's only perfect if everyone runs through the line; doesn't loaf; and the coaches don't think they are dogging it. I thought to myself 'I'll do eight of these with no problem.' I did eight, and then I did eight more. We ended up doing over 20 of them because at one point or another one player or two wasn't doing it perfect. It was brutal, but Coach Cutcliffe meant what he said about getting eight perfect reps.