Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota linebacker Simoni Lawrence doesn't lack confidence, and that's a good thing this week. Jahvid Best is coming to town, and Lawrence and his fellow defenders must find a way to slow down the Cal star running back on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET). The Gophers' linebackers have stepped up in the team's first two wins, especially last week against Air Force and the triple option, and hopes are high for Lawrence, a 6-foot-1, 218-pound senior from Upper Darby, Pa.
Lawrence checked in earlier this week to share his thoughts about Best, Cal and his own development.
How was it being in the new stadium?
Simoni Lawrence: It's amazing. It was a great feeling, just because everybody's on campus and everything. Everybody came to the game, campus was fun. It just feels more like your home, and then after the game, you can walk to your apartment. It's like a two-minute walk.
I read that you said before the season you were gunning to be an All-American. Are you going to back that up?
SL: I've got to back it up. Your word is everything, and I'm going to do the best I can to back it up. Playing these regular teams now, it should be more exciting. You don't have to worry about the option. They can scheme and do what they want to do with me now.
Have you been a confident guy?
SL: I believe you've got to be confident in what you do. I love football and I'm always going to be confident because that's what I love the most. I trust my abilities, and the coaches and everybody do a great job of making us trust ourselves.
You've mentioned that coach [John] Butler tries to create monsters in the linebacker room. Do you fit that description?
SL: Oh, definitely. Last year, when I came in, I had more of a defensive back mentality from playing safety [in junior college]. And coach Butler beat that out of me pretty quickly this year.
How was that transition for you, from safety to linebacker?
SL: It was difficult, just getting used to playing in the box. Last year, I played the whole season at 210 [pounds], and it definitely starts to take a toll on your body when you're 210 and you're having to spill big fullbacks. You're not used to that. You're used to covering everybody. But coach Butler got me on the weight program, and I've put on a good 15 pounds. The transition's been smooth.
Were you able to keep your speed with the extra weight?
SL: Definitely, because it was all good weight. We had great diets, great nutrition and everything. I don't feel like I put any weight on.
Big game this week. How excited are you to face a team like Cal?
SL: Man, I'm walking around campus and everybody's like, 'You guys are playing Cal this year? Oh my God! They're ranked this or they're ranked that.' It's just going to be a great day. Cal is a great team. I've watched like three of their games already, the Miami game from last year, a little bit of the Maryland game. This is why you came to the Big Ten, to be in big games like this, to get a chance to play great Pac-10 schools. It's going to be a great feeling.
I'm sure you got a good look at Jahvid Best in the Maryland game. What stood out to you about him?
SL: He looks like a track star running the ball. He cuts on a dime. He's a great player. Those kinds of players, you've just got to make sure you gets your hands on them. You've just got to hit guys like that.
How do you approach a team like Cal?
SL: From a schematic standpoint, we know what they're going to do. It's about executing. When you play great teams, you've got to let it all hang. You've got to go after them, you've got to make sure your group of guys are all playing great football because if you don't come in there with your A-game, you'll get beat. If we come in there and play great team football and everybody plays at their capabilities, we'll be right in there with Cal.
It seems like a lot of Big Ten teams shy away from games like this. You guys get Cal this year and then USC the next two years and maybe Texas. You guys really play a lot of these games.
SL: This is what you want to play college football for, if you're a real competitior. That's why I love Minnesota so much and the coaches and everything; they're just competitive. They're like us. If they could put the pads on, they would come and play with us. They believe we can play anybody and come out with a W. They trust us, and we trust our coaches. We trust the game plan and we come in and execute at our highest abilities.
Any predictions for Saturday?
SL: I'm going to hold off on predicting. I would, but I'm going to hold off for now.