Alabama DT Marcell Dareus stopped by the NFL Network studios Thursday, and we took some time to get to know him as he prepares for the 2011 NFL Draft.
Simon Samano: Welcome back to Southern California. This place has to have some special meaning for you, right?
Marcell Dareus: Of course, of course. I made my mark here in Southern California.
SS: Pasadena, specifically.
MD: Yeah, that’s where I really left my mark. That’s a got a real special place in my heart. Everything started there. My career really moved to another level.
SS: Winning that BCS title game in 2010 at the Rose Bowl, what do you remember most about that game?
MD: At the end of the game, being MVP. We were down there on the field, and they tapped me on the shoulder. I asked what was going on, and they told me I was MVP of the game. I’ll never forget my reaction was, like, ‘Stop playing.’ Getting that award, making the interception to score the touchdown, that was a special feeling. I’ll never forget that victory.
SS: So, let me ask you, how is it playing for Nick Saban? Because a lot of people think he’s like the Bill Belichick of college football, kind of a curmudgeon. What do you think?
MD: Everything they say about Coach Saban is true. He is hard-nosed, man. He doesn’t take it easy. He doesn’t cut any slack. The sense from him is if you could do it perfect, then why not do it perfect. Not almost perfect, why not perfect. He’s serious, and he’s always focused. That’s just how he is.
SS: How often would you find yourself frustrated or upset when he got on you about something?
MD: I didn’t really catch myself getting frustrated. After about two months of being around him, I figured out how he was. You just got to roll with the punches. You knew what he was bringing to the table. I knew what I was getting myself into. I signed up for it, and I had to get things done.
SS: Well, it is pretty clear that he got the best out of you, didn’t he?
MD: Of course. He’s going to get the best out of you. If he isn’t going to get the best out of you, then you’re not going to be there.
SS: This has got to be a pretty exciting time for you. What are some of the feelings as you go through this process.
MD: It’s really overwhelming how people are really taking a liking to you, really acknowledging the work that you’ve done on and off the field.
SS: Our resident draft guru, Mike Mayock, calls you his “favorite player in the country this year.”
MD: (Laughs) That’s awesome.
SS: How do you take a compliment like that from somebody like Mayock, who knows his stuff?
MD: It’s crazy, man. I feel like he’s really sat back and watched film and evaluated me – my techniques, the way I play, my off-the-field actions. I mean, he’s looking at the right things, I guess.
SS: That’s got to be flattering.
MD: Like my brother would say, I’m flabbergasted. I just want to take it all in. I’m a college player who just turned 21 last Sunday. For people to think this way about you, it’s a lot to take in.
SS: You were on set with Warren Sapp already, and I know he’s one of your idols. What was that like?
MD: It was overwhelming. To look at Warren Sapp the way that I do and, for me, him looking at me the same way, I see a lot of myself in how he used to play. For him to think highly of me just means a lot.
SS: Describe to me in your best words what it’s like to be down there in the trenches for 60 minutes.
MD: It’s like a constant fight that’s not going to be over until the whistle blows. You’re fighting, you’re wrestling, fighting, wrestling. Somebody has got to win.
SS: On the next level, how do you imagine it’s going to be?
MD: I feel like the trenches will be more intense, because O-linemen are smarter. They play with better technique. They’re more fundamentally sound. I’ve just got to get a grasp on what I’ve got to do. I know I’ll be ready for the next level.
SS: So, I know this is an obvious question. But I’ve got to ask it. You or Auburn’s Nick Fairley?
MD: I don’t like being in a competition when it comes to choosing two different people. I just feel like the smartest team will really watch the film and make a smart decision on who they need to pick. I’m not for talking down about anybody. Just watch film, and you decide who is better.
SS: So Mayock says he can’t see you getting past Denver. Now, if the Panthers don’t take you, and you do end up with the Broncos at No. 2, that means you’ll be Tim Tebow’s teammate.
SS: Hey, you guys go back. You’ve spent a lot of time trying to get to him. Wouldn’t you rather be going up against him again?
MD: To be honest with you, I always wanted to play with him. Because he works so hard. I work hard at what I do. He works so hard, and he just wants to win. He’s got such a drive to win. Tim Tebow has the mentality of, ‘I want to win. And I’m going to take you, you, you, and you with me.’ I like that about him.