Welcome back to another edition of the Red and Purple Interview. We have an awesome subject today in current Linfield Defensive Tackle Paul Nishizaki (#98). “Nish” just finished up his Junior year for the ‘Cats and was a dominate force in the middle of the Linfield defense. While Nish is a wrecking ball and a very intense competitor on the field you can’t meet a nicer or as easy going person off the field. We caught up with Nish after his Jan Term trip to China and talked about coming to Linfield, a bad injury that set him back early in his career, and of course about the great 2009 season. This is a great read so take the 10-15 minutes out of your day and enjoy the words from someone who plays on the most athletic group on the field…the defensive line.
(Wildcat11) First off, thanks for joining us here on the Red and Purple Interview, Nish. I’m always happy to talk with a fellow defensive lineman. Before we start talking football I understand that you spent your January Term in China. That sounds like an incredible trip. For those that don’t know what Jan Term is could you explain that? Also, tell us where you studied and about some of your experiences? Where did you travel, what were the people like, how did you communicate, etc?
(Paul Nishizaki) Jan term is the time in between Fall and Spring terms. It allows students to take one intensive month long class and earn extra credits. I studied Asian Thought in China. It was taught by Kaarina Beam and we traveled throughout the country of China exploring philosophical locations. Our trip took to Beijing, Luoyang, Xian, Chongqing, a cruise down the Yangtze River, Yichan, Zhangjijie, Feng Quan, and then back to Beijing. In total we were gone for twenty six days and it was a pretty amazing time. People in China thought I looked like a Chinese popstar and it also helped that my hair was really long and curly because I haven’t cut it since the start of football. A lot of Chinese people would just come up and take pictures with some people in our group I thought it was pretty funny. For our trip I ended up being the guy who tried everything first, I ate bugs, won a Shaolin Kung Fu show, and made a bunch of new friends.
One of my favorite memories was hiking through China’s First National Forest. Our group didn’t know it, but it was the setting for some of the scenes in the movie Avatar. There was a ninety three year old woman who would walk for nine hours a day collecting plastic. She only made about 1 yuan a day, which is around fourteen cents. This lady was also about 4’10” it really inspired me how this one woman could walk nine hours a day, just to make a living. The elderly in China are so much more active than many elderly people in America. Communication wasn’t too great of a problem we had guides and interpreters that would help us out a lot. Some of us managed to use hand signals and even a little Chinese picked up along the way. All the people were really friendly and interested in America. I am still in contact with most of the people I met there, many of them use e-mail.
(WC11) Ok let’s talk shop and talk about you. You’re a Westview High School (Beaverton, Or.) product (2002-06) and during high school you were an all-state defensive tackle during both your Junior and Seniors years, a Les Schwab Bowl participant, and on top of that you finished 6th at the state wrestling tournament (275 lbs) your senior year. That’s a pretty darn good resume Nish. During your time at Westview, when did you first become aware of Linfield and when did the Linfield staff start to contact you? Can you talk about your recruiting experience and at what point did you say in your mind “I’m going to Linfield.”
(PN) I had heard about Linfield when I was a Junior in high school, right after they won the title and was shown all over ESPN. Before that I had never heard of Linfield. I then attended a Brian Derby lineman clinic where I met Coach Hire. This is when Linfield was put on my recruiting list. I didn’t have a giant list of people who wanted to recruit me I was an undersized defensive tackle, and my numbers weren’t incredibly impressive. So I knew that if I didn’t want to sit on the bench for four years I needed to check out somewhere besides Division I. I knew that Linfield was the right fit. When I came and watched Linfield play Puget Sound in 05’(It was a smashing) I knew it was where I wanted to come. The Linfield coaches didn’t really start calling me until after my senior football season.
(WC11) So in the summer of 2006 you wrap up high school football by playing in the Les Schawb Oregon All-Star game and head into Linfield’s fall camp. For many guys, they were the BMOC (Big Man On Campus) at their respective high school and showing up at their first college fall camp, especially Linfield, is really an eye opening experience. There are a lot of guys with a lot of talent. Can you remember what that first fall camp was like for you? Did you just jump in with both feet or did it feel overwhelming at all? Give us a scouting report of 2006’s version of Paul Nishizaki.
(PN) Coming out of High School I knew I had built a large sports resume. It is a credit to all my coaches at Westview High School that made me a great football player and wrestler. I knew that coming into college that everyone is the best player from their teams. My first fall camp was pretty strenuous for me. I had never experienced such soreness and mental fatigue in any high school camp. It also didn’t help that I came into camp out of shape. I lost about twenty pounds by the time my first season was over.
When I came into camp there was only one other freshman defensive tackle and a large stable of other DT’s. I knew that I wasn’t going to be playing my first year. Coming into camp I knew that Linfield already had two established Defensive tackles in Mike Greenberg ('06) and Mike Ketler ('06). During my camp experience I learned a lot about playing the position from them. It really helped that they were both 5th year seniors and had been four year all conference starters. I was coming into a situation where these guys had been the established defensive tackles for the last four years and now it was time to teach the young guys everything they know. I greatly benefited from the first year and everything I learned from Ketler and Greenberg.
(WC11) Those had to be two great guys to learn from….dang good DT’s. So you come into the 2007 season a year more experienced and look to be in the rotation and playing for a starting job. However, you only get two games into the season before you’re sidelined for the rest of the year with a bad shoulder injury. Can you tell us when the injury took place and if you knew immediately it was bad or not? There are a few guys on the Linfield roster that have had season ending injuries in recent past. Can you talk about just how hard of an experience it is going from being 100% into your season and next thing you know you’re on the side watching and not participating. What are the emotions and adversity you have to deal with having your year turned upside down like that? Are there positive lessons from that time you came away with?
(PN) I remember exactly what happened that day; it’s a pretty hard event to forget. On that day we were playing Hardin Simmons University and it was the second game of the season. We had just lost to Western Oregon and our team was looking to get a get solid win against a great opponent. I wasn’t starting for this game, but I was in the rotation. It was mid-way through the second quarter and Ian Estrada had just gone down with a shoulder injury. I was thrust into the game and figured this was my chance to prove myself on the field. It really felt like it was my time to step into the starting defensive tackle position. It was a play that I wasn’t even involved in, I was on the backside and had just beat a cut. Then out of nowhere their center Cody Honeycutt comes and cuts me again while I’m running to the ball and there goes my season. I tore my PCL and MCL, I thought I was going to be able to come back later in the season, but it was never realized.
On that day we lost two guys for pretty much the whole season. Ian Estrada (DT/DE '09) ended up separating both his shoulders and was only able to play a couple more games that season. I ended up medical redshirting and gained my lost year back. During the season I showed up for practice and the games. It just wasn’t quite the same anymore. The one thing I knew I could control was my attitude towards that situation. Even if I’m injured for the year, I can make the younger players get better. Also, I focused on next season and goals for myself. I knew that I was still an unproven player because I had only really played in two games. One major lesson I am learning from the injury is to appreciate every time I’m on the field because you never know when you’re playing days will be over.
(WC11) Thankfully you came back better than ever and had a great 2008. The season starts with a tough loss at Hardin-Simmons but the next game was that great 14-7 overtime win vs. Southern Oregon. You caused some havoc between the tackles during the night but your biggest play was the fumble recovery on SOU’s first play in overtime to seal the win. Do you remember what happened on that play and was that one of the most memorable plays you’ve been involved with as a football player?
(PN) That night was just an electric night in the Catdome. We rarely ever play night games and usually it’s only against Southern Oregon. That play was supposed to be a play action pass, but the quarterback and running back botched the exchange. I had beat my block and was already in the backfield when I saw the ball on the ground and pounced on it. I knew right away that I had the ball and the game was over. After I leapt up from the ground I just started screaming at the top of my lungs and running all over the field. When the fans rushed the field and it was just chaos, but I still held onto the ball. After all this happened one of the Southern Oregon assistant coaches came up to me and asked me for the ball back. I told him I wanted to keep it and he reluctantly let me keep the ball. The ball is currently sitting on a mantle at my dad’s house.
(WC11) Staying on the topic of 2008, the season was up and down. There were key injuries, a solid win over Whitworth, and then a tough loss vs Willamette that really took the air out of the season. After that loss the team went up to Puget Sound and played flat in a too close for comfort win at UPS. At that point there seemed a level of uncertainty and I think the program faced a moment of truth. The response was a great effort in a near win over WOU and then a pasting of PLU to finish the season. Can you walk us through what the mindset was during that low point of 2008 and what happened to get this program to rally and finish strong? Do you think the way the 2008 season ended provided momentum for the success of 2009?
(PN) 2008 was a year that definitely had its ups and downs. The Whitworth win was really amazing for our team because they had beaten us for the conference title the past two years. Willamette was the worst loss I’ve ever experienced as a wildcat. That was just a really bad day, nobody really played well. It was a team loss that day and everyone knew it. The defense knew it had played its worst game of the season and it was just a big slap in the face. Puget Sound has given us problems the past two seasons.
During 2008 the whole team was in a funk after the Willamette loss. You could just see it in everybody’s faces, and we definitely played like it against Puget Sound. After the near loss we got together as a team and we talked about how we wanted to finish the season out. Even though the next week we lost to Western, we played like a team. PLU was just a really fun game to round out the season. Everyone on the defensive line had a sack and we held them to zero points. The end of 2008 was a huge momentum builder for 2009. I feel like our success in 2009 was built off of how we finished 2008. Everyone who was a part of the 2008 team really didn’t want that feeling ever again and we weren’t going to let that happen in 2009.
(WC11) We’ve examined various angles of the 2009 season but I’d like to talk about this defensive line. You lost the NWC defensive player of the year, DE Taylor Summers, and a pair of strong DT vets in Joe Seifert and Scott Olson. Really, you and Ian Estrada were the only true experienced players back but you were surrounded with young and unproven talent. As the season went along the defensive line kept getting better and the group had an outstanding season. Before the season, did you have any anxiety about how the group would shape up? Can you talk about some of the personalities of the group and what made you guys work well together? Also, what game do you think the defensive line played their best game?
(PN) Before the season I wasn’t too worried about our defensive line. Even though we lost Taylor (Summers, DE), Scott (Olson, DT), and Joe (Seifert, DT) we had a strong stable of defensive linemen. We returned a lot of defensive linemen from 2008 Ian, CJ, Hedin, Sparky, Scotty Ray, Bingham, Rader, Shims, and others. Most of this group was unproven in games, but I had faith in all their abilities. The group that really surprised me was the incoming class of freshman. Steele and McCabe were the real surprises of the freshman, both ended up seeing significant playing time. Steele was thrust into the starting line-up at the first week of the season. One of the other players couldn't play and Steele got his shot to start at DT in the season opener. This wasn’t any regular game it was against Hardin-Simmons, who had one of the dirtiest O-lines we faced. I can remember Tyler telling me that College o-linemen were a lot dirtier than high school ones. This just made me laugh because Hardin-Simmons was the team that ended my 2007 season and I remembered how dirty they were.
The defensive line was made up of a wide variety of personalities. There is a joke on the defensive line that if you aren’t Hawaiian or a Theta Chi then you will probably get moved a position. There is only about three guys on the D-line that don’t fit the description of Hawaiian or Theta Chi, but we accept them anyway. Some of the best times we have is before practice when we warm-up as a position group. We always are telling jokes or just talking before we start individual drills. This is where we really get to know each other. Some of the better personalities on the team are Tommy Patrick and Eric Anderson, when they just talk about the weirdest topics. Or just Steele talking all the time. The Hawaiians always stuck together and Coach Vaughn made sure to give them a hard time. Our defensive line was a cohesive unit by the end of the year.
Our best game as a defensive line was probably against either Whitworth or Cal Lutheran. Against Whitworth I just remember our line dominating theirs. It was just a fun game because Whitworth runs the ball so much and that is when a good D-line has to prove what their made of. Cal Lutheran was another great game because it was just a sack fest. We harassed the quarterback so much that he was getting up really slow every time he got hit. Plus it was the first home playoff game that I’ve ever played in.
(WC11) Great picks Nish. Those were two great performances by the D-Line. I’d like to turn the attention to you personally. You had just a great year. Per the NWC all-conference team you were ranked as the top defensive lineman in the Northwest Conference (FYI..the top vote getter per position is who is listed first, then 2nd, etc. They don’t tell you that but that’s how it goes) and you landed on the d3football.com 2nd team all-west region. However, if you look at your stats they are not eye popping but your value for the ‘Cats defense is how much chaos you cause other teams up the middle. O.C.’s around the NWC didn’t like you very much and that’s a good thing. Personally, were you satisfied with your 2009 season and where do you think you have room to improve headed into your senior campaign?
(PN) I was extremely satisfied with the 2009 season. After three years of going 6-3, everyone knew that this was our time to prove everyone wrong. No one picked us to go far in the playoffs, but the coaches and players knew that we had the talent and skills. The big difference this year was the team chemistry; everyone trusted and loved everyone else. We shared one common goal and were willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. The main thing I want to get better at is probably my speed and pass rush. Also, I want to develop my leadership abilities this year. Now that I’m going to be a fifth year senior I really want to help out all the young players develop. This is how Linfield continually performs every year, the younger players learn from the older ones. I firmly believe that is a key to our sustained success.
(WC11) Another point that I think is important is to ask you about your overall Linfield experience. While football is a big part of your Linfield experience your education is really why you’re enrolled at Linfield. Can you tell the readers what you’ve gained while attending Linfield over the past 3 year and what has surprised you the most about your time and experiences in McMinnville? Are you involved in other activities besides football at Linfield?
(PN) Linfield is a unique place compared to most other colleges. The small size and close knit community allows people to interact with each other a lot more. My friends at Linfield have helped me grow and develop as a person. I can truly say that Linfield has made me a better man. Also, I’ve learned that the life skills you learn in football don’t even compare to what they teach you in a classroom. There was a time when I didn’t even know if I was going to play football in college and now I don’t know what I would do without this wonderful sport. Time has really seemed to fly by, it seems like only yesterday I was being dropped off by my parents in front of Anderson Hall, getting ready to report for daily doubles. Now I’m getting ready to walk at graduation and enter the real world after next season. I’ve learned that college is a short time period in life, but you have to cherish every moment because there will never be a time like this ever in my life again.
Some other activities that I’m involved in at Linfield, is Theta Chi Fraternity. I joined Theta Chi my freshman year and loved it. Through Theta Chi I was involved in the 12 Days of Christmas donation trailer and various other philanthropic events. Also, last spring I volunteered with the Special Olympics of McMinnville. It was a really cool environment and I really enjoyed helping these athletes get better.
(WC11) Let’s wrap up this interview with one more question, Nish. In your opinion where does the football program go from here? 2009 was just magical but there is always the danger of the returning players feeling comfortable in what was just accomplished. 2010 starts off with a monster test in Cal Lutheran, who you know is going to have that opening game circled 1000 times, and then you open up NWC play with Willamette. It’s really another challenging start to the season. Do you have any concerns about what the 2010 has to replace in terms of graduating talent and just if that level of focus is going to remain in 2010?
(PN) The biggest loss of last year is our three senior linebackers: Paul Partlo, Alex Tkachuk, and Jaymin Jackson. These three guys are all my good friends and I’ve know them since we came in as freshman. It was a hell of a time playing with these guys for the last two years and we’ve made a lot of memories. (EMILOOOOOO) We already have a good crop of linebackers to replace them and I have confidence in their ability. It will be fun making new memories with them next year. Going into every season there is always questions about how were going to replace graduating senior talent. The team always finds a way to put the right people in the right places.
Our team knows that complacency is deadly to a football team. 2009 is in the past and we now have to focus on 2010. Last year guarantees us nothing, except that more people will be circling us on their schedule. The team is focused and working hard in the weight room. Preparation in the spring and summer allows us to have success in the fall. I firmly believe that next year will be an amazing year and I can’t wait to see how the team performs.
Do offensive linemen always cheat?
Yes and they know they do it.
Least favorite drill during practice?
Most favorite drill during practice?
1 on 1 Pass rush
Favorite football road trip to make and why?
Either the bus ride to PLU or UPS, Country Cousins is a great breakfast place.
Yes or No on Linfield’s All-Purple home look?
No I don’t like it, its just too much.
Best place to eat in McMinnville?
Rib Slayer, especially the Flaming Mofo, the habenero’s will get ya.
Best movie Coach Smith has picked on the drive home from a road game?