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December 27, 2019

Thomas Graham Jr.

Pasadena, California

Q. How does it feel just to be here, the presence of everything, the whole event so far?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: It's surreal. It's a moment as a child I always dreamed of. Being from Southern California, being able to play in the Rose Bowl, witnessing a legend, De'Anthony Thomas to Reggie Bush to all these players, like just go through this, it's just such an amazing experience.

And then now I get to go through it, it's just like I'm enjoying every moment of it because you never know, like if we get another chance to come back here anyway next year or anything, but I get to live my childhood dream now.

Q. Do you ever talk to guys like Juwan or players who have been in big bowl situations like that and kind of what it entails?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Yeah, he just basically just told us, like most of the seniors told me when I was a freshman, my first game, just treat it like a normal game and go out and there do you. Because at the end of the day, you know how good you can play, and just make sure to show the whole world now.

Q. Obviously a lot of the attention is going to be on Jonathan Taylor on defense. How do you deal with a running back like that?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: You just got to pursue to the ball and you got to gain tackle. He's a running back that is special in so many ways. I think he's like top five in the nation in broken tackles, his offensive line, blocks, very good form.

So it's just like you got to make sure to get off blocks, we got to make sure to gain tackle and not let go at any moment and hold on for dear life, because if you don't, it's bad because he's fast, too. People don't know that he was a high school state champion in the hundred, so it's not like he's just some running back that doesn't have speed. He's fast and he's strong. So we've just got to be able to stop that.

Q. Does he remind you of anybody?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Not really. He's kind of his own person. I haven't really seen somebody as fast, as quick, and as big as he is. I'll say the closest person like you can kind of like mirror him to in this conference is somebody like Zaquon (phonetic), somebody that has it all. So we've just got to be able to stop him at all costs.

Q. Utah, you think a game like that, maybe stylistically, a little bit -- they rely heavy on their running back in the run game, can that help you guys maybe in a game like this?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Yes, it did, just knowing people's persona in the Pac-12, pass first, Utah is more of a run and pound, just like we are. So I feel that we prepared ourselves every day of practice, through practicing through our offense, but also practicing from going against Utah because they do run the ball as heavy as they do.

But the good thing about that -- the bad thing about playing against Utah was Zack Moss is -- I don't think Zack Moss is as fast as Jonathan Taylor. Jonathan Taylor, definitely based on the film that I've seen, has some unreal speed. So that's the one thing that's going to be the biggest problem for us, I think.

Q. As far as the distractions go, there could be a lot coming to a big bowl game like this. Do games like the Pac-12 Championship or maybe the Auburn game to start the year, given the hype around those, do you think those games kind of help you?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Yes, those help us. And then our coaching staff does an amazing job of making sure to take the outside noise away, making sure that we're not in position to even receive the outside noise. So they do a great job for us to make sure that we're able to do everything that we have to stay focused on the game.

Q. Since the Pac-12 Championship game, you guys have had some time off. Do you feel fresher, more ready to go maybe than by the end of the regular season?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Oh, yes. Playing week in, week out, my body was beat up. That month off kind of practice, not as much contact, not having to get banged up every Saturday makes my body feel way better than it does, kind of makes me feel like the season started over again.

Q. A little easier, too, not having school to concentrate on?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Way easier. That makes the job way easier. I'm so happy that we don't have school to focus on anymore.

Q. Talk about being from down here, growing up. Were those years informative years, any ideas when you were going up that, hey, I'm going to be where I am at the Rose Bowl?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Well, the crazy thing about everything is like if you look five years before, five years ago, I was actually at the Rose Bowl when Marcus Mariota played Florida State and Jameis Winston -- my eighth grade coach took me. He was my track coach. He had tickets to the game. He took me and my best friend.

So just looking at it now, I kind of predicted my future. Didn't know I was going to be an Oregon Duck, didn't know that I was going to playing until the Rose Bowl for Oregon, but so happened to be God put me in that position for a reason. So now I actually get to be able to do that.

Q. After that game, were there some thoughts of, wow, I may like to go to school there some day?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Well, I was always a big fan of De'Anthony Thomas. I seen him play a high school state championship game. At that time period he was the only person to ever do what he did against De La Salle. He got hurt, so then his team ended up losing.

But seeing that, and then after that I became a big fan and followed him. Seen him go to the Army All-American game and all that. So after that I just became an Oregon Duck fan, once he committed to Oregon on national television. And then after that I just became an Oregon fan.

I'll watch De'Anthony every time. I actually went to -- my first USC football game ever was seeing De'Anthony Thomas play against the Ducks down there. So it was just amazing. And I followed De'Anthony, and that made me become an Oregon fan also while doing that. And now it was just kind of -- that was one of my dream schools just because of De'Anthony Thomas. A Southern California legend had done that.

Q. Have you had a chance to spend any time with him or talk to him?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: I talked to him before like once or twice. But that was like really it. He comes down to Southern California pretty often, and he -- around Snoop Dogg in that time and point, Snoop Dogg had a 7-on-7 team too. So once he stopped that, I haven't really seen him. But I would love to meet him again. I'm a real big fan to this day.

Q. When did you realize that you had the talent that you have, that you have a chance to maybe play D-I?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: It all started off as like a dream, seeing guys around me do a lot of stuff, Devon Blackmon was a major key to that, watching him grow up and seeing him go Under Armour All-American Game, seeing him go to The Opening.

I told my dad, that's what I want to do. And my dad said, you got to trust me and me helping you get there. So at that moment, started to happen. So I just wrote down my goals. I said from -- I want to say I was in the sixth grade, I said -- I didn't reach all of them, but I said I was going to be a five star. I said I was going to be No. 1 DB on the West Coast, if not the nation. I was going to make the Under Armour All-American Game, make The Opening.

So I accomplished two of those. I'm proud of that. And I said -- I always told myself I was going to be at the college I wanted to go to, not the college choose me. And I got that position, being able to become an Oregon Duck.

Q. You're an Oregon Duck now. I just wonder, it's usually a position coach, but the coaches on this staff, I don't want to say you don't enjoy being around anybody, but what coach do you enjoy being around the most, or who's influenced you the most in your career?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: That's kind of easy for me. Mine is Donte Williams. I love Donte. He treats me like I'm his own son. He's always there for me, on and off the field.

I had some problems going on in my life. He was overseas just for vacation, you know, the time difference, nine hours ahead, I called him, he sat on the phone, talked to me for two hours. I don't know what time it was. I think I called him at six a.m. on the Pacific, so it might have been seven at night. He might have been planning on going out with his friends or whatever. But he decided to take two hours away from his time and enjoy it with me. So that moment right there put a special place in my heart forever.

And then on the field, he's just a technician. And the position I play, you got to be a technician. So even though sometimes I get mad at him, I don't want to hear it, it's the truth and I need it. Because at the end of the day, he prepares me and allows me to be as successful as I have been these last two years.

Q. What's the best part of the game for you?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Trash talking (laughter). That's the best part for me because it's just like I like bringing out the ultimate competitor of the person. I want you at your best. So some people fold when you start talking trash, but a lot of people rise to the occasion and give you the best.

And I like that because I just like being able to be physical and be -- because I'm an ultimate competitor. I always have. And my house, there's no board games. So we all as a house already are competitive right there. So being able to just bring out the ultimate competitiveness of everybody when I play against them is the best feeling ever.

Q. Who competes at your house? Talk about your family.
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Me and my sister competed always. My dad does. Actually me and my dad stopped playing video games because how bad I beat him. Me and I sister, like when they got to board games, whoever won was the trash talker.

Even my dad, too. If me and my sister both lost to my dad, we'll try to like jump on him, like beat him up. And then if my sister won, me and her will get in a fight, or if I won, me and her will get in a fight.

So my family all just decided no more board games in the house because it just turns into someone getting mad because they didn't win and the one that won talking less, so they just kind of had to calm that down.

Q. You're back home. Did you get to spend Christmas with your family at all?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Yes, we got to -- we didn't have to drive up to -- I left my house at 3:30, so there wasn't no traffic either. So it was good. I was blessed for that. I was so happy. So my little cousins came down. So I got to spend time with my little cousins and my mom and sister.

Q. When is the last time you were able to see them?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: My little cousins, well, I came home before this break, but before that, I didn't see them almost for like seven, eight months. So they went from crawling on my arms to now running around the house. So I'm just like dang, they got big.

And then my sister, it was summer. That was the last time I saw her.

Q. And when you do see them, especially some of the younger ones, do you realize the position you're in of maybe being a role model for them?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Oh, yes. One of them is six, so he started flag football now, and he wears No. 4. So he always wears Oregon stuff. Every time the game comes on, both of them, all three of them scream and shout.

So it's just like an amazing feeling to know that I'm not just a role model to people that I don't really know but my family also.

Q. You guys played a handful of quality running backs, Zack Moss for example?

Q. What are the expectations as far as trying to stop Jonathan Taylor?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: The expectations of stopping the running game, dominate the line of scrimmage. And then once we tackle, everybody wrap up and gain tackle. Don't not pursue to the ball and make sure if you grab them, make sure to hold on until everybody else come. Don't let go no matter what.

Q. I don't know if you crossed paths with Justin Flowe at all, but what were your thoughts of him signing on with the Ducks?
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: I was extremely happy. I was his host two times when he came up. It was just a good feeling to know that he actually came. I wasn't really shocked, but like his last time he came up, he said he really enjoyed his time and he wanted to come back.

So I didn't really think he was going to come because it's hard to get a big-time recruit like that. Just like KT. I was very shocked on getting him. But the when he decided to come up, we was all jumping. We was like, yeah, we got Baby Man. His coming out party in high school was actually really against us. Brought him in the last couple minutes of the game, and after that he had 20 tackles against Bosco. So, shoot, it's a great feeling to know we had Justin Flowe coming in, because that's an amazing inside, outside back, wherever you want to put him.

Q. Is there a bond there with some of the guys like Troy Dye, for example, and his brother and, you know, just there's --
THOMAS GRAHAM JR.: Easy. Sean Dollars, Jaylon Redd, Troy, all of us, we all -- we even got big Steve on the O line. So it's just like we have a couple guys, and we all just make jokes every once in a while, and everybody would joke on who played in high school. Like Troy Dye always talk about I cramped, but he doesn't say I cramped -- or not cramping in high school and he caught me, and then I mess with Trav about how we beat them my senior year.

So it's just like we all have our little jokes and battles against each other. So it's pretty fun to know you have people from your hometown because it just makes you more comfortable.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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