Pac-12: Top Gun

Pac-10 Q&A: USC LB Chris Galippo

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
11:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images
Chris Galippo is eager to show what he can do in the middle of USC's defense.

Chris Galippo has suffered through two back surgeries and waited patiently to take his spot in the middle of the USC defense.

He's paid his dues. So, yes, he's eager to show he can be the Trojans next great linebacker.

Galippo, sophomore, is a tackling machine. He recorded 381 tackles at Servite High in Anaheim, Calif., where he also blocked 10 kicks. And he led the Trojans with nine tackles -- three for a loss -- in their season-opening 56-3 victory over San Jose State.

The former USA Today and Parade Magazine prep All-American will step into the national spotlight for the first time Saturday at Ohio State. He will lead a defense that is replacing eight starters, including all of the members of perhaps the best crew of linebackers in college football history.

But before he does that, we wanted to check in and get his measure before he steps onto the field at the Horseshoe.

From the film of the San Jose State game, what were some things you weren't happy with?

CG: Tackling. Tackling personally and as a unit is something we have to emphasize this week. Not only because the opponent requires it. It was the the first game and it was the first time we were full-speed against a real opponent. But there were times when guys weren't bringing their feet, running through tackles and were slipping off stuff. But it's stuff that can be easily corrected if it's emphasized and pushed -- and I know it will be because Coach [Pete] Carroll told us it will be.

Your thing is you make a lot of tackles -- you're always around the ball. Against San Jose State, you also made a lot of tackles for a loss. Do you feel like you have a sixth sense -- something beyond reading your keys -- that you can anticipate what's about to happen with an offense?

CG: It's an instinct -- I don't know if you'd call it a sixth sense or anything like that. I think it comes from preparation and from seeing things over and over again. The more you see things, the more you're around things, you can kind of anticipate things. The more you're around your brothers and sisters you can anticipate how they will react. It's the same thing in football. The more you see the more you can anticipate. Watching film yesterday, we saw that San Jose State kept running that sweep with their receivers. They ran it twice but on the third time in the film -- and I didn't remember that I did this -- but in the film when the receiver starting coming, I just started walking up and they snapped and we made the play in the backfield. It's just about catching on and being smart enough to figure out what the offense is trying to tell you. The offense speaks a language to you, it's your job to interpret that language.

Road games are hard on offenses, but what does it mean for a defense to walk out in front of 100,000 people who don't like you?

Chris Galippo: It's a little different. When their offense is on the field, they won't be as loud -- at least until they get a first down or something like that, then the crowd erupts. So you have to get used to the rhythm of the crowd and use it to your advantage. You've got to thrive on turning the volume down instead of turning it up like when you're playing at home. But defense, to me, is so much different than offense. It's not so much assignments -- you go out there, you light your head on fire and you knock somebody out. I feel like it's a little more free.

Does this team thrive on hostile environments? Some of these guys talk like they enjoy being on the road more -- like, 'We're USC. We're the big show. We're taking over your stadium.'

CG: It's my first year starting but I love traveling. I love getting on the plane with the team, being on the plane for five or six hours, going across the country, being in a hostile environment, being in a hotel with people kind of looking at you funny. It's different. Then going out onto the field, 55 players and the coaching staff. It's like, that's it, those are our guys, all these other -- 100,000 or whatever -- that's all them. It's a cool feeling.

Give me your impressions of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

CG: He's a big guy. Anytime you've got a big guy like that with the speed he has it's going to be a tackle-emphasis week. Our tackling has to be spot on. He's not a guy you can just arm tackle. He sheds tackles and he can throw on the run. He's very dynamic in what he can bring to a football game. You've really got to be on your toes. He's the kind of guy that you stop an offense on first and second down and it's third and 15 and you drop back in coverage and all of the sudden he breaks for a first down. You've got to be ready for the those situations. And ready after those situations to go, 'OK, let's go another three.'

How much of a mentor was Rey Maualuga for you?

CG: Rey's a little more quiet. A little more to himself. As much as he's so crazy and out there on the field I think he's a little more to himself off the field. But there is so much from his game that I can take from him and add to mine. In the linebacker room, looking at guys like [Brian Cushing] and Rey and Kaluka Maiava, they were guys who did things well but did things differently from each other -- everyone's got something that you can take and add to your game. Even with Coach Norton as a player. You can watch the way he prepared and his intensity on the field, the way that he carries himself -- everyone around you has something to can take from them and use and bring to your own game. So physically standing behind Rey in practice and watching him make plays -- there were so many things that he does that make him who he is.

Have you seen the movie "Top Gun" with Tom Cruise? Would you say you're more Ice Man and Rey's more Maverick? [Galippo says, "Yeah," but his expression seems to say, "That movie came out before I was born."]

You seem like a more cerebral player, a guy who's not going to go nuts for the kill shot -- and maybe leave his gap to do so.

CG: Yeah. Yeah. I consider my strengths to be my discipline, my preparation because I'm not the most athletic guy. I'm not the biggest guy, the strongest guy, the fastest guy, but I'm going to be the toughest and take care of things I can control. You can't control the body you were born into, the shell you carry around. You can prepare in the off-season but I've been injured and had things I can't control. But I can control how tough I am and my technique. And in football, it doesn't matter how big you are, as long as you've got the attitude, you can knock anybody out.

Do you think it might help this defense that you don't come into the season with all the magazine covers?

CG: Yeah, there's a humbleness. Besides [two-time All-American safety Taylor Mays], there's no one on our defense who is Mr. Football or a Butkus candidate -- any of that. Which is a little different from the past. When we were walking down the Trojan Walk last Saturday, it was like me, Malcolm Smith, Will Harris, Jurrell Casey and Matt Barkley was behind us. We were walking and no one even noticed us. They were all yelling at Matt. It's humbling because it's like, "I'm a starter, too!" But you've got to earn it. If anything, it helps us because it keeps us grounded and give us motivation -- something to work for.

Give me a scouting report on the linebackers you play with: Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan.

CG: Malcolm is a little bit of me and a little bit of Mike. Mike is legitimate 4.3. That's unheard of as a linebacker. He's got long strides. Taylor is the fastest guy on the team but Mike could race all our running backs and probably beat them. Malcolm is very heady. He's got a nose for the ball. But he's got his brother in him [former USC and current NY Giants receiver Steve Smith] -- he's got receiver-like feet. And he's fast. He runs a 4.4. He's smart and has moxie and is poised, but he also packs a punch. The guy can hit. Those two guys flanking me make me so much faster. I'm like Mr. 4.8, but I've got it up here [Galippo taps his head]. We help each other out a lot.

So you Smith and Morgan: Let's come up with a nickname. You're not just the no-name guys, right?

CG: We can let other people come up with that. We've got such great coaches that we'd be crazy not to do what they say. As long as we do what they say, we're good enough athletes that, if we stick with the game plan, we can shut anybody down.

That's not very catchy.

CG: [Laughs]

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