One-on-one with T.J. McDonald

USC safety T.J. McDonald is going be to the Trojans' second representative at Pac-12 media day next month at the Gibson Amphitheatre, joining quarterback Matt Barkley -- and his brother, Tevin McDonald, who will be representing UCLA.

We talked to McDonald about that news and several other topics following USC's early-morning throwing session on Tuesday.

Q: It's not a surprise that you'll be there in July. But your brother? That has to be somewhat of a surprise, considering he sat out his first year and then started as a second-stringer last year.

A: It's crazy going back and thinking about him. We had just lost to Stanford last year and I was feeling all down and then I check my phone in the locker room and I see he had three picks against Cal. Three picks? I had two picks against Arizona last year and I was feeling good about myself. It's cool we'll be there together.

Q: Well, Tevin's draft-eligible this year as a redshirt sophomore. But you're definitely going to the draft after this season, which brings us to this: Looking back, did you have the kind of year you hoped in 2011?

A: I mean, I had more tackles my sophomore year, but at the same time, our defense wasn't as good. As far as us as a defense, I feel like I played pretty well and I made impact plays, made plays on special teams. I wish I would've had a few more interceptions, but I feel like a lot of it was kinda overshadowed by me getting in trouble with the hits.

Q: Is it safe to say, then, that if you had done everything you wanted to do last year, you wouldn't be here right now?

A: No. It wasn't a sense of that, wasn't a sense of, 'If I had five picks I'm gone.' Nothing like that.

Q: You mentioned your play being overshadowed by your penalties, and a lot of people speculated before your decision that the flags would play a role in your decision, pushing you out to avoid further issues with Pac-12 referees. Obviously it wasn't that big a part in your decision, but did you consider it?

A: I understand that. But like I've said before, I'm a physical guy, and if you have anything to criticize me on, I'm OK with you criticizing me on that. I'd rather be criticized for that than a bunch of other stuff.

Q: Do you appreciate how Lane (Kiffin) backed you up in the media last year? He consistently said there's nothing he could tell you to tackle differently.

A: I really do appreciate that, But I've been through that. I just want to play football, and that's such a small part of what I do as a player. Hitting is a big part, but as far as those, I had maybe 10 big hits and four or five personal-foul penalties.

Q: Do you feel like that's sort of naturally highlighted for you, you being a safety and all?

A: Yeah. We can't go get touchdown passes. We can't go run the ball in. We have to get picks, force fumbles, or hit somebody. You're eliminating one of the three from me. But, in all seriousness, I'm still going to play physical. Within the rules, but physical. I'm not gonna change that.

Q: Has your role changed at all now that you're a senior? There's a reason they're bringing you to media day with Matt, right?

A: I feel like I was in the same position last year. If we were able to take two people last year, I think I would've been there too. My teammates respect that and that's why they were excited when I told them I was coming back.

Q: Speaking of that, did you tell your teammates before you made the decision or were you like Matt, posting the video before letting anyone know what you were doing?

A: Well I filmed the video and told them right before it was going to be posted. I sent a mass text and at first they didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually they knew what I was saying and everybody was excited. That's when it started rolling again. And Matt and I met a couple days before that.

Q: Moving onto the field, it seems like there's a lot of talent at safety this year and not enough spots. For that one safety slot next to you, there's Josh (Shaw), Gerald (Bowman), Demetrius Wright, Drew McAllister and of course Jawanza Starling. How do you think it's all going to shake out? Any one of them could be a starter in this conference this year.

A: Let the best one play. Gerald's a hell of a player, Josh is a hell of a player and Jawanza has proven to be a good player. We've got a bunch of guys. And that's not to say anything bad about Demetrius or anybody. I'm worried about the guys that are here now, and the best player is going to play. I know we can figure out ways and different formations and little things to bring another safety into the game.

Q: Do you think you could be moved around some?

A: We worked in the Spring Game, moved me around a bit. They're moving me around to help me, give me different looks, help me make plays. Of course I have no problem with it at all. We started doing it last year and more this year and I really love it. I feel like I'm in the mix a lot and able to get my hands on some balls.

Q: Going back to your draft candidacy, in your draft evaluation, did you get a specific set of things to work on, as far as strengths and weaknesses?

A: No. And I gave mine to my dad anyway, because he didn't want me looking at all that stuff. I don't even know what round I was projected to go in. To tell you the truth, even after we got that I was really close to leaving. And it wasn't about the NFL or me not being ready, because I feel like I was and I feel like I can compete with any of the safeties that were in the draft class. It was just about finishing what I started here and the opportunity that's here -- the storyline that would be cut short. It's once in a lifetime. Everybody's got some pretty good college careers and mine was kinda, 'Eh.' Came here, went to the Emerald Bowl, sat out for two years. I came here after they won all these Rose Bowls. I love this place. We gotta bring that back.