Having returned home to New Jersey now that his Florida Gators career has come to a close, defensive end Justin Trattou took some time out from training for upcoming NFL workouts to sit down with OGGOA for a wide-ranging interview.
Trattou, who plans to return to Gainesville, FL to showcase his talents for NFL scouts and coaches at Florida’s Pro Day, recounted his collegiate career and looked ahead to his future during our conversation. Check it out below!
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You made all-state as a junior and senior and won the New Jersey state title in your final season. What was it like to see four years of hard work pay off?
JUSTIN TRATTOU: “It was definitely a huge accomplishment. My senior year, me and those guys, we went to the state championship in my sophomore and junior year and lost both times. That senior year we went 12-0, ran the table and then blew out St. Peters 41-0. That was a great way to go out. And then I ended up going to the All-American game and did well there, so it was definitely a good way to go into college.”
AS: For a while you were committed to Notre Dame, but you eventually switched to Florida. What made you change your mind, and how did all that come about?
JT: “After my season ended, I kind of just committed to get it out of the way and concentrate on my senior year. I didn’t want to be bothered by people. After I won the state championship and everything was all good, I started looking around again. Took a visit down to Florida and immediately fell in love with the place – The Swamp and the whole atmosphere. I knew that was the place for me.”
AS: Was it tough telling Notre Dame that you had switched?
JT: “At the end of the day, I’m the one that has to live it out. I didn’t owe anybody anything, so it was definitely my choice.”
AS: During your recruitment, Charlie Weis was the Notre Dame head coach. Obviously he’s now the offensive coordinator at Florida. Can you talk about the type of recruiter he was – his demeanor in your home, how he spoke to you, etc?
JT: “It was always good. Obviously I ended up committing there, so… He was definitely good. For me personally, I just wanted to go to Florida.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Justin Trattou…after the break!
AS: You joined the Gators in 2007 in what was very much a rebuilding year for the defense. Can you talk about how tough that was internally as a unit?
JT: “I was just coming in there trying to play. I ended up playing the most of all the freshmen defensive linemen. For me personally, I had a pretty good freshman season. Obviously that led on to the 2008 National Championship team. It was definitely a good building year, definitely woke us up for what we needed to do in ’08.”
AS: Just a year later the Gators brought home the BCS title in Miami. Looking back on that game, what will you remember most looking back on it?
JT: “I’m definitely just going to remember the final seconds and that we actually won. It didn’t even really sink in. The huge celebration, that whole night, it didn’t really sink in until a couple weeks later that we actually really won the National Championship. That’s as big as it gets.”
AS: How much pressure did the team feel in 2009? Ranked No. 1 from the beginning, everyone thought the team could go undefeated or at least repeat.
JT: “’09 was definitely a high-pressure season, being so highly ranked, expected to repeat, and every single guy was returning. We still had a great year. We wound up winning the Sugar Bowl, [finishing] 13-1. That’s still a great season. Obviously we didn’t repeat, but… Definitely a high-pressure season. We just played football, had a good time, and then in the Sugar Bowl we just dominated and went out the right way.”
AS: There was a big change at defensive coordinator this season with Charlie Strong leaving and Florida hiring Teryl Austin. What was the transition like?
JT: “I got along great with Coach Austin. I thought he was a real good coach. I learned a lot from him. I think our defense responded to him pretty well. I thought we had a pretty good year with him, and I definitely have no regrets with Coach Austin at all.”
AS: You were also a team leader this past year…a pretty difficult season all things considered. How were you able to handle that responsibility while keeping the spirits of the younger players up?
JT: “It was definitely not a perfect season, but I went out there and, when it came down to game time, tried to rally everybody up and play as hard as possible. That’s all you can do. You can’t control what everyone else is doing. You have to lead by example. I learned a lot from the season, and I’m just glad we went out the right way.”
AS: There was a lot of talk throughout the season about the maturity level and entitlement that some of the freshman exhibited. Was that the case and, if so, at what point did all of that turn around?
JT: “No matter what school you go to, there’s going to be some immaturity with incoming freshmen. That’s just the way it is. I didn’t think that had a huge impact on anything, to be honest. On the defensive line, I felt like my group was pretty close knit from the beginning. We didn’t have really any of those issues. I can’t really speak for some of the other position groups.”
AS: There was plenty of discontent with the offense last year. How divided were things as the season went on, and do you think the coaches could have done more to adjust the offense around quarterback John Brantley?
JT: “I’m going to not answer that question.”
AS: Previously you had mentioned that you were really happy that you were able to finish your Gators career alongside head coach Urban Meyer in the 2011 Outback Bowl. What did you think when you found out he was resigning for the second time?
JT: “I just knew that he had to do what’s right for him. He had already accomplished more than virtually any other coach in the history of the game. I don’t think he really has anything to prove to anybody. I was definitely glad that he stayed for my senior year and that we sent him out the right way, beating Penn State in another good game. Definitely a great way to leave the school.”
AS: Do you think that Meyer has received too much criticism regarding the arrests and legal issues surrounding the team? We spoke with Terron Sanders last month and he told us that people don’t realize how hard he took it every single time someone did something wrong. Do you feel the same way?
JT: “Coach Meyer, from day one with everybody, tries to not only impact their lives with football, he tries to make you a better person off the field. Whether it’s team meetings, the message that he’s trying to send is basically being a good person beyond football. It’s kind of unfair to criticize him for other people’s actions, especially when he does more [for the team off the field] than any other coach I’ve been around.”
AS: Any thoughts on new head coach Will Muschamp? I’m not sure how much time you’ve gotten to spend around the team since he’s been hired…
JT: “Just coming from a defensive standpoint, I’m definitely real excited for all my guys down there. It’s definitely going to bring a positive, defensive energy to the team. And that’s a good thing.”
AS: I know you were close with defensive tackle Omar Hunter at least over the offseason…who are some of the players on the defensive line that Gators fans should keep their eyes pealed for next season as guys who can break out?
JT: “Omar’s gong to have another good year. Of the young guys, I think Sharrif Floyd is definitely going to have a big year. He showed what he could do a little bit last year and definitely was way ahead of where most freshmen are in terms of size, strength and overall being a tough guy. Another guy to watch is Willie Green. He’s played here and there along the way, but this year he’ll be able to play a bigger role. I’m excited to see what he can do.”
AS: What have you been hearing in regards to your position projection for the NFL, and what training have you been doing to prepare for the workouts? Hired an agent?
JT: “Basically I’m going to be playing the 3-4 outside linebacker and defensive end, or the weakside defensive end. I’m just trying to work on all my speed and trying to get ready for Pro Day and go down there, run a good 40 time and show them how fast I am. I’m actually training in New Jersey at a combine prep place. We’re going twice a day, five-six times a week. I signed with Brian Mackler with Sports Stars.”
AS: What is your overall outlook on the team coming back in 2011?
JT: “There’s definitely a great core group of guys down there still. Definitely I’m expecting big things out of them this year. I really do have positive feelings going into this year. They’ve been working real hard this offseason so far. A new coaching staff will definitely shake things up and bring the best out of people.”
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