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December 28, 2016

Zach Banner

Pasadena, California

Q. Tell me just how this whole experience has been. It's been a whirlwind. You guys have started with a season that didn't look great and you guys have dug yourselves out of that. How would you describe this season?
ZACH BANNER: We were happy with the situation. You try not to think about the past and try not to think about the first four games, and you try to stay focused with everything. You try to focus on the nine-game win streak. You try to enjoy Disneyland and things like that and the festivities that come with the Rose Bowl, but at the same time you're honored to be here, and you understand that you deserved it and you earned it. We have a chance to make history and add to our legacy. We want to win this game.

Q. What do you attribute that starting point from and how you guys were able to dig out of that?
ZACH BANNER: I think you definitely attribute it to Coach Helton and the focus and the dedication to the program and just understanding the situation and understanding that we're a team coming off sanctions, a team coming off from coaches getting fired here or there, and just that you have to stay positive, and Coach Helton is our guy, and we knew we could rely on him. That's why we were so ecstatic when he got the job last year, and then just going into the season, it had its ups and downs and had a lot of downs at the beginning especially, but we just said there's the little things that we need to fix, and detouring from that and not focusing on the bad things and focusing on the good things and the positives, that's what's going to help us win football games, so that's what we've been doing.

Q. What has been the most fun part about this nine-game winning streak?
ZACH BANNER: I think the most fun part is just seeing each other smile and seeing something that for the first time in the past four years that I've been here as a senior, I think that seeing each other celebrate touchdowns and have a great time and jump around and hug up on each other and dance and stuff like that, I think that's probably the most fun thing about it.

Q. You guys have such a joy about this group. There's so much fun to be had. What is different about this team than any other team you've played for?
ZACH BANNER: I think that it comes down to not only the coaching staff but then the leadership afterwards. You've got great guys like Sam and great guys like Juju and Adoree' and all these guys who work hard, and we push each other. We have hard practices. We try to kill each other there in practice, and then we have fun in the locker room, we hug up on each other, we take each other out and stuff like that. I made it sound like we're dating, huh? That doesn't sound so good. But it's a good time. It's a good time.

Q. When you heard Rose Bowl, that this team was bound to go to the Rose Bowl, what did you think?
ZACH BANNER: Amazing. I think when you talk about the history and the pedigree of this game, I think that everybody understands it, and they use the term the "Granddaddy of Them All", it's well worth it. We had a great time at Disneyland. Ever since we first got here they've been taking care of us. When we first heard about the Rose Bowl, everyone was ecstatic, and it's amazing. It's amazing to be here.

Q. I remember Adoree' saying Keyshawn reached out to him. Have you had any alumni reach out to you and talk to you about this game?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, Tyron Smith is somebody I talk to a lot, and he said, I never got to play in one. He always dreamed about playing in one and always dreamed about being around that atmosphere, and he was like, take advantage of it and have fun. I'm excited to get this game here and playing it.

Q. Do you have expectations for what the Rose Bowl will look like and feel like for you?
ZACH BANNER: I think it's going to be amazing. The game has always been during the day, so with that being said, like I imagine like the sunset and stuff over the stadium, and they always have the jets and stuff fly over before the pregame, and how it's half and half, the colors of each school, and it's just going to be an amazing environment.

Q. How have bowl practices gone for you guys?
ZACH BANNER: Today is our first bowl practice, but in terms of the preparation that we were doing the two weeks before the holiday, it's been amazing. It's been awesome. It's been fun. Kind of a little sad as a senior, but at the same time, I don't really think about it like that. I just think about how much fun we're having and how awesome it is to be here.

Q. What would a win mean for you as a senior to go out on top like this?
ZACH BANNER: A win would be the biggest thing. That's the most important thing right now, bottom line. Not only leaving my own personal legacy on the school but leaving it as a team and understanding that we were the foundation that started that USC dominant wave again year after year. I think this will be the starting point.

Q. How do you want your teammates to remember who Zach Banner was on this team?
ZACH BANNER: I want my teammates to remember not only a big goofy guy off the field but a hard, determined leader on the field who liked to have a good time, liked to be the funny dude and grab the mic all the time but also be able to share the spotlight. I enjoy playing with great players next to me, here, there, and it's an awesome experience, and I just want them to remember me for my character.

Q. What are you looking forward to about the Beef Bowl tonight?
ZACH BANNER: I might not participate. I've got to make sure I watch my weight going into the draft and everything, and I've got to make sure I stay in shape. You know, we can't have you be the only good-looking person here, so I can't make sure I get big.

Q. Maybe a nice little filet?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, maybe just a little one.

Q. Talk about the Rose Bowl and the defensive line, what you've seen from them?
ZACH BANNER: It's an amazing experience to be here, be around your guys, and to enjoy such a big game with such a well known pedigree and everything. I wouldn't have it any other way. There's no other bowl game in the world that I'd rather be at.

Q. What do you see on film from the Penn State defensive line?
ZACH BANNER: They're quick. They're ferocious. They move around a lot. They're able to change directions real fast. They have two good guys, 90 and 94, coming off the edge. 94 will more likely be on my side and stuff, and 19, also. Been watching three weeks of film on them. I feel like I could practically live with them and know who they are, their ins and outs. I'm excited to play with them, excited to have such great competition, and it'll be exciting.

Q. Can you just kind of reflect back on your career so far? How much more does that kind of make this experience valuable to you?
ZACH BANNER: You know, just Coach Helton, when he brought me in the other day to show me the invitation to the Senior Bowl, he sat me down, and he said congratulations, and he's just like -- he's been there since he recruited me five years ago, and he's been here ever since I've been here, even longer than I have. To hear him say I'm proud of you and through the ups and downs of being redshirted and having hip surgery and then the past three years starting and waiting my turn and earning everything I've got, it's that final stint in terms of the Rose Bowl Game, and you have to be able to understand that not only as a team aspect of starting waves of tradition and hopefully starting another powerhouse program and getting back to the top, from a personal standpoint I couldn't be more proud of myself.

Q. You've been a USC guy your whole life; what's it like now being part of the USC tradition of being able to play in the Rose Bowl?
ZACH BANNER: It's awesome. To be able to be one of those 34 teams, like I think there's other guys that I talk to who are amazing football players. One of my good friends, Tyron Smith, he told me he wasn't able to be a part of that, and to think about so many guys fell short of reaching the Rose Bowl or not having the chance like he did because of sanctions, it's going to be an honor. It's going to be an honor to wear that cardinal and gold in that stadium and represent USC.

Q. You've had a fair share of games there against UCLA. What is it about the stadium itself that makes games different?
ZACH BANNER: I think just how important it is to USC. Like you said, we played there when we played UCLA. That's the only time I've been there. But you knew in the background that there was a better feeling than that. You knew in the background that there was a sense of belonging there, USC, and how it's different for us than other schools, and how it is the best game to play in. We deserve it, and going on a nine-game win streak like we have and working our tails off next to each other, it's well worth it.

Q. After being through so much to kind of earn this, what do you have to say to the freshmen and redshirt freshmen to keep them level headed that this is a unique experience?
ZACH BANNER: I asked them throughout the season to pay attention to what it's like and what it takes and to take notes so that way when it is their opportunity to lead this team like it was for me, you keep it going. You don't lose any ground. You don't have a slow start like we did at the beginning of the season. I think that with great coaches like Coach Helton and staff who are going to be here after we are, I think they're going to be able to lead them.

Q. I asked you yesterday what your favorite ride was at Disney --
ZACH BANNER: We weren't able to get on the teacups unfortunately, but Splash Mountain was pretty fun.

Q. Can I have your name and what you play?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, Zach Banner, offensive tackle, USC.

Q. What's your take on Penn State? Anything surprise you?
ZACH BANNER: Repeat that question.

Q. What will be in your mind against Penn State?
ZACH BANNER: It's an awesome tradition school just like we are. They carry a lot of tradition not only in the Rose Bowl but also in life in general. They're a dominant program. You think about a lot of good and great players coming through there and great coaches and everything, and the last time this game was played before USC was against Penn State. I was in eighth grade watching that game, which is insane to think about that we're able to -- it took us this long to get back there, but it's well-deserved.

Q. You guys face so many good pass-rush schemes and rushers in the first month of the season. How important was that --
ZACH BANNER: We've faced a great pass rusher or somebody every week, know what I mean? It wasn't just the first couple games. If you were going to ask me who was the best that we've gone against, it's going to take me about five minutes to try to remember. I think that understanding that we needed to figure out who we were as a team, I think that also helped identify who -- figuring out who our offensive line is. We felt like there was a little bit of change-up in terms of the play calls and things that we were running, and obviously we had a switch-up at quarterback, so there was a lot of things that we needed to maneuver, but once we got that comfortable scheme, we got that comfortable person behind us and everything like that, I think that's what helped take us off and show what we really can do up front.

Q. In terms of scheme, what has been the change that seems to work much better with you guys?
ZACH BANNER: I think point blank we ran the ball. We started to run the ball. We started doing a lot of what we needed to do in terms of play calling, and I think that when you complement a guy like -- I think people like Coach Helton, both Clay and Tyson, I think guys like Coach Martin, I think all three of them, the combination, you talk about the run game coordinator in terms of Coach Callaway, I think all four of those people deserve a lot more credit than they actually get, and then it comes to the rest of the offensive staff because they're the ones that are drawing up the plays. They're the ones that are figuring out what's best to go against each team. You can just see it. You can feel it. If you know football and you saw the change-up, that's why we weren't worried about those first three losses, and that's why there was so much confidence in me and when I was talking to the media and talking on Twitter, because I understood that we were going to get it figured out.

If you were going to tell me, hey, Zach, stay through it, and in a few months you're going to be playing in the Rose Bowl, I wouldn't be surprised just because I knew that's the type of level that our team had going into the season, and I couldn't be more proud of my guys.

Q. In a word, what was that figuring out? What did they decide to do that maybe they hadn't done in the first three games?
ZACH BANNER: I can only speak for the players, I can't speak of what it was with the coaches. But in terms of the players, we kind of got together and rallied together and spoke to each other at the meetings after the Utah game and was like, listen, we're not going to get negative at all, we're not going to be on each other at all, we're not going to turn on each other, we're not going to point fingers. What we're going to do is step up and stay together and just keep working hard and keep doing the same things that we've been doing and focus up and trust Coach Helton in the process, and they got it done.

Q. Speaking of the three losses, it seems like you guys, and in talking to Coach Helton, it seems like you guys embraced that tough start. Why do you think that happened? Some coaches like to forget about the rough start and move on.
ZACH BANNER: It's just not important. I think when you talk about that first part of the season, it can put you behind, and when we talk about not finishing against Utah, not showing up against Stanford and possibly not going in with the right things in Alabama, you look back at it during that week that maybe the Monday after the game, and you think, man, what if, but the really good teams are able to put it in the past, and I think that's what we've been able to show, that we are able to play at this high level. We are able to instill fear into other teams because we play at such a high level and a dominant level, but we have to understand that that's ourselves, and we hurt ourselves at the beginning of the season. So grow up, be a man, and move on.

Q. When you look at Penn State, they're able to really get after quarterbacks. They've got like 39 sacks this year, which is kind of on par with where Utah is. What do they do in particular?
ZACH BANNER: They're high-motor guys. They're finish-the-play-type guys. They're the type of guys that you have to block through the whistle and all the way through the whistle and past the whistle, or else you're going to get your quarterback nicked up. But we've done a pretty good job protecting quarterbacks, so I have a lot of faith in our guys that we'll come prepared to play a game and to give a good challenge to them.

Q. Are you excited for that particular match-up?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, and that's the thing is that there's so much -- somebody told me the other day that I haven't gave up a single pressure in the last six games. That's not even a sack, we're talking about the guys not even getting close. So I have full confidence in myself. I have full confidence in my boy Chad. I have full confidence in the three guys inside in Damien Mama, Viane and Nico, and I have full confidence in the three guys coming behind us, Chuma, Chris and Jordan. I think when you talk about a team and what we've been through, I think it shows in those eight guys and the offensive line especially. I wouldn't count on anybody else.

Q. You talk about attitude wise and how that changed, but schematically, you guys look a little different. You're doing some smarter things with the offensive line.

Q. How would you describe that change?
ZACH BANNER: Write that down and ask Coach Helton because I don't want to give you a wrong answer. I don't want to give you a wrong answer. Make sure you ask Coach Helton that because I think he can tell you. I don't know what it is, and I agree with you, because there is a different flow of the game. There is a different thing. But it would be stupid for me -- I don't speak out on anything that I don't know the real answer to.

Q. You talked about this team has gone through a lot, and we know what it has gone through over the last few years. What's the life lesson that you young men have learned over the last few years at SC?
ZACH BANNER: I think, as Sam Cooke says, a change is going to come, and if you stick through it and you trust up on your family and trust up on your morals and everything that you've worked hard for that you will get what you deserve, and we deserve to be here at the Rose Bowl, through everything that we've been through. It just shows what a great hire Coach Helton was. Coach Helton has been here all the way through these sanctions, and he's been here longer than I have for six years, and he knew what it took to get us back to where we were and what we could possibly be better. You trust the process. You trust a guy like him, trust his training, and just go out there and play.

Q. It's almost like you can hardly wait until game day.
ZACH BANNER: I can't wait. I'm a little tired of the festivities and stuff already, and it's only the beginning of the week. And I can't wait to step foot in that Rose Bowl. It's my last game, but it's amazing, especially to know that you deserve it.

Q. Is it mentally and physically tiring on you because there is a premium on your time? There's so many things to do.
ZACH BANNER: That's what you dream about when you're a kid. You dream about these opportunities to come speak to you guys and to do interviews like this. You dream about those type of things. When it comes you can't be shy and you can't be scared of the opportunity, and you've just got to make sure you take your butt to sleep.

Q. And someone who's taking full advantage and having a lot of fun with this whole process is you.
ZACH BANNER: Thank you. I appreciate you, man.

Q. When you think about this type of game in your career with everything you guys have gone through, less than 50 scholarships a couple years ago, have you allowed a moment to reflect, all right, we've gotten this program back to where the expectation is?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, it's a reflection off the program. I don't think any other school could have gone through what we did and survived, know what I mean? You look back to the histories of how dominant programs were before us, the NCAA goes in and cleans out locker space, I think that it shows the pedigree of USC and shows how determined we are to get back to the top. This Rose Bowl, not just getting here, but we need to win. I think that'll put a final stamp on the calling and it'll set the school up from here on out.

Q. A lot has been made of this team meeting after you guys go 1-3. Where did you find success? Was it the next day in practice, immediately in the next position meeting that happened, or was it a couple weeks and a gradual growth?
ZACH BANNER: It was a feeling that passed through me in that team meeting I set up right front and center in the front row of the team meeting room, and I just felt that the guys had my back. The guys next to me in the front row and then the guys behind me, we all had each other, and there was a -- I don't know what it was, but that was talking to the media on Tuesday or tweeting through the game, after the game or throughout the weekend. After the Utah game I was so confident. Some people at that time who don't know our team thought it was cockiness or an ego but it really wasn't because I wasn't saying that we were going to go on a nine-game winning streak and crush everybody. I was just saying that we were going to sick together and we're going to have each other's back and we are not going to let anybody come in between us, and with that being said, it's a family, and it's a family type atmosphere that we have, and when you're a family, you have to have each other's backs.

Q. When you look at some of the players here specifically that are from LA, do you notice that they're even more excited to play in this game?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, because we have a couple guys from Pasadena and they grew up around the whole Rose Bowl tradition around this time, and you talk about the West Coast, period, and I'm from Tacoma, Washington, where it rains all the time, and we're basketball people. We have a rich basketball history. We have good football players like myself, but I think when you talk about staying in after the holiday and when it's raining outside and you have to watch TV, you saw the Rose Bowl every year, and that was the best thing growing up. I remember watching this game when I was in eighth grade, eight years ago. That was the last time SC had played in it, and when they played Penn State, I remember watching Mark and those guys play against them, and I remember thinking, wow, that Rose Bowl, man, that must be some feeling playing in a game like that. Eight years later, we brought USC past sanctions and all this type of stuff, and we're back against the same team. It's kind of weird.

Q. Have you visualized about this game?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, I visualize it being a great experience. I visualize people having roses in their mouth when they run out on the field, and I dream hopefully we have roses in our mouth after the game. It's going to be a hard game. These guys are tough. They're especially tough up front, and that's something I can speak on because watching film for the past three weeks on these guys, they're going to be a tough team, and so are we, so it's going to be an exciting game.

Q. As one of the leaders of this team, what do you make sure you let a very young team know prior to the final kickoff of your career at USC?
ZACH BANNER: There's going to be a time where we have this tradition at SC where the seniors and some of the captains like four or five guys say their kind of last word in the last meeting the day before the game, and I just want to make sure the guys know to take note -- hopefully they've been taking notes throughout the season on what it takes to get to a game like this and to be paying attention to the struggles at the beginning, the struggles in the middle and the struggles at the end, because it wasn't easy going on that eight-game winning streak. With that being said, I just want to make sure the guys focus up, have fun with each other and love up on each other.

Q. T was saying that Penn State does a good job of scheming pressure?

Q. What makes them difficult?
ZACH BANNER: In football you talk about finding fishes on the field, right, and that's the weak link of that situation, whether it be on special teams, offense or defense. They're good at finding their fishes on offensive schemes and stuff like that. Hopefully we put a lot in the film that's going to be hard for them to find that fish, but they want to identify it and they want to expose it. So when you talk about -- that's why they've had so many different types of fronts and blitzes and stuff like that and blitz packages. Their scheme is different every game, so what we did is we're going into this game thinking, let's put everything together where some people have exposed us or some people have gotten us, and let's practice that because we know that's what they're going to come with.

Q. What is Sam's personality like off the field?
ZACH BANNER: Off the field, Sam is a cool dude, a really cool dude. I'm not just saying that. He's got not only a couple classes with me, but we've got to hang out a lot, and he's the type of guy that puts himself around his team. He doesn't stay in the shadows. He hangs out with everybody, he doesn't hang out with a certain clique, and that's hard to find, especially in a quarterback. He's always wanting to have a good time but he's a hard worker at the same time. You never have to worry about him being late. You never have to worry about him missing meetings or practice. You can always rely on him doing extra, I think that's why he's such a great player. We're talking about a redshirt freshman, too, which is insane.

Q. Does he talk more when he's like off the field or when he's around you guys?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, we all do. Yeah. It's just scary for me, right?

Q. You talk more?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, I talk more.

Q. What did it mean for you to have Chad Wheeler named an All-American?
ZACH BANNER: I teared up when I found out Chad was going to be on the wall. He deserves it. He doesn't get as much recognition as he deserves. He's the only person in the world that kept me okay with staying on the right side because when you look at the situations and the pairs that we've had in the past, Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith, Tyron played right all three years starting here, and then he was able to go to the NFL, and now he's one of the best if not the best left tackle in the league. Matt Kalil was over there on the right side the whole time. You talk about that duo, we're always talking about trying to be better than them, and to find both of us on the All-American wall forever, I couldn't be more proud of my guy.

We had our ups and downs, each of us. We had different trials, but I think that having each other's back, hugging up on each other after every season, hanging out with each other, him taking me around LA and eating, which is bad because he gained weight and I did, too, but that was good for him because he came in 220 and I came in 305, so working hard next to each other, I love Chad. That's just not for the camera. He knows that. We FaceTimed right after he found out, and just little small things that friends do. He called me on my birthday, the other day on Christmas. I'm happy I met Chad, and I have a friend for life. I love that man.

Q. Is there a kinship among tackles where maybe he's the only one out there that can understand what you're going through in a game?
ZACH BANNER: Oh, for sure. The tackle position is like just the sexiest on the offensive line, and that's the truth, and everybody wants to nick away if you're outside that tackle box. The only people inside of us are guards and centers understand, and they leave us alone, but everybody outside wants to nick if you let a sack up. They want to try to say, oh, he let one up, he's trash, he's a bust, things like that. But sticking together as a pair, it's us two against the world type mentality, it's the best thing ever.

Q. There aren't a lot of guys that go all the way back to that Sun Bowl season and have been through literally all the coaching changes --
ZACH BANNER: Five different coaches.

Q. The fifth-year senior. Is there something that you guys just look at each other and where you are today and where you're going to be in less than a week --
ZACH BANNER: Yeah I think that's a reflection off of mine and Chad's relationship to stick through all that. We had our opportunities to leave. We had our opportunities to go other places or even leave for the draft in terms of last year or the year before, but I just -- I think that it's a reflection off of we wanted to stay and work together, and we wanted to stay and play next to each other, and we wanted to stay and try to help bring this team, and not only that, but leave our legacy, and we both dreamed of always being on that wall.

It feels good that it's all coming together and that dreams come true.

Q. Have you talked to Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith about this game?
ZACH BANNER: Yeah, I talked to Tyron about this game. He wished us luck, and he's like, I didn't get to participate in a game like this, take full advantage of it. After this year I'll be working out with him and getting to learn from him at the next level, but right now he just told me to focus up on the game.

Q. What does Penn State do that's maybe similar to -- are they a similar defense to what you've seen in the Pac-12?
ZACH BANNER: No, not really, just because we haven't seen them. They run a four-man front. We're kind of used to doing that little four-man front in the Pac-12. That kind of shifted a lot over the past few years. In the past there used to be a lot of 3-4, but they're a lot of high-motor guys. They're used to playing teams that have big power packages who huddle up and things like that. They're a different type of breed, and you can tell that by the different types of schemes that they bring, different kinds of pressures, so it's going to be a challenge.

Q. When you have two different backs like RoJo and JD, is there a different way that you go through to try to plug up a hole for them to --
ZACH BANNER: No, they have to change for us, and that's the thing is that they're both two different styles, but they both hit that hole the same way. Everything after that is their own type of spaz into it, their own type of style. I think when you talk about scheme and stuff and how we can't change because we don't even know who's behind us, to be honest with you.

Q. Beef Bowl tomorrow; any predictions or do you have any bets with anyone?
ZACH BANNER: No, I might chill a little bit on that. I need to make sure I watch my figure going into not only this game but into draft season and everything like that. I need to make sure I just -- I might chill out. I'll let the other guys take care of that.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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