NFL Draft Q&A: USC nose tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu
We continue our NFL Draft Q&A series with former Utah and USC defensive tackle Stevie Tu'ikolovatu -- one of the draft's bigger prospects at more than 340 pounds, and one of the more amazing stories, having lived out of a car in Los Angeles for more than two months last summer when he'd transferred from Utah but wasn't yet eligible to receive aid from USC.
Don't get scared trying to say his last name -- his parents are from Tonga -- it's just TOO-ee-koe-loe-VAH-too. He'll be 26 when he plays his first NFL game, having spent three years on an LDS mission in the Philippines from 2010-12 after redshirting as a walk-on at Utah in 2009. His uncle Sione Pouha is a mentor, and a fair comp for him -- he was 6-3, 330, was a third-round pick of the Jets at age 26 in 2005 and played seven seasons in New York with 55 career starts.
He's training in Orlando with Tom Shaw -- there are about 25 draft prospects working there at ESPN Wide World of Sports.
Q: What have you done since the end of USC's season to help get yourself ready for the draft?
A: "After the Rose Bowl, I took two days off and flew to Orlando. I've been working on a lot of speed stuff, a lot of agility work and trying to work on my 40. I've been preparing and going through his program."
Q: Fans get more excited about the 40 with receivers and defensive backs and speed positions, but it's a big deal for linemen as well.
A: "People don't really pay attention to the bigger guys when we run because it's not as flashy as the smaller guys, but if a bigger guy runs a great 40 time, it still stands out."
Q: Who's the best football player you've gone up against, between your time at Utah and USC?
A: "At Utah, the best offensive lineman I went up against was Kyle Kalis from Michigan. Here at USC, the best o-lineman I went against was the left guard for Notre Dame (Quenton Nelson)."
Q: Best player you've had as a teammate?
A: "(Defensive end) Hunter Dimick at Utah."
Q: Is there a player in the NFL you like to pattern your game after, who you try to play like as a defensive tackle?
A: "It was Vince Wilfork, but he retired. I haven't really seen anybody else."
Q: Your coaches have raved about how you changed USC's run defense. What would you say are your strengths as a lineman?
A: "Being able to handle all the inside gaps and shutting down any runs that come between B gap to B gap. I'm great at occupying space, taking on double teams and getting off blocks."
Q: The roster at USC listed you at 6-foot-1, 320 pounds. What are you at now?
A: "I'm 6-1, 348. I would like to be, I'm probably working to be in the 330s, the highest being 335. I played around 345-350 (at USC).
Q: Which NFL teams have shown the most interest in you so far?
A: "It's been the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Miami Dolphins, the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots."
Q: Are you more likely to go to a 3-4 team as a nose, or could you play in a 4-3?
A: "I can play both. I'm just excited for whoever gives me an opportunity."
Q: So if I'm at USC, what's your favorite place to eat when you're in Los Angeles?
A: "Any Korean barbecue. It's all assorted different meats. They have pork, chicken, beef, whatever you like, and they have the grill in the middle of your table and they cook it right there. You don't even want to get me started on that. I've actually gotten full there. They haven't kicked me out yet."
Q: Your uncle Sione, how much did help shape you and point you in the right direction as a player?
A: "He basically helped strengthen the foundation that I needed in terms of technique and being football smart. I give him a lot of credit for helping me through that transition. I know if I wasn't able to learn from his moments, I wouldn't be in the position I'm now in."
Q: It's an amazing story what you went through last summer. How much more can you appreciate where you are now having gone through that?
A: "It's a humbling process and experience. I feel like if I hadn't gone through that struggle, I wouldn't be as successful as I am now. That experience is always something I can think back upon when I feel like I need more of a motivation or a push. I'm grateful for that experience."
Q: What was your degree in from Utah?
A: "I received my Bachelor's in sociology and at USC, I'm in a Master's program in gerentology. I should be done by December of this year."
Q: You're older than most draft prospects at 25, but your USC teammates spoke about the experience and veteran leadership you brought.
A: "I feel like it's an advantage that I have. I know I can play with anybody from any age. The benefit of having a 25-year-old who has experienced a lot of stuff in life, serving my LDS mission in the Philippines helped develop me as a person, and that's what built the maturity that I have that USC benefited from. I'm happy I was able to help them, but I was just a little part in their success."