Thanks to the folks at Yardbarker.com, I had the opportunity to interview Lions rookie Ikaika Alama-Francis. Ikaika was gracious enough to take some time away from his busy schedule to answer my questions, so big thanks to him as well. Anyways, here is the interview:
Pride of Detroit: When you answered your phone and found out that the Lions had just drafted you, what was the first thing that went through your mind?
Ikaika Alama-Francis: I was actually on the golf course. When my phone rang it wasn't a familiar number so I thought this could be it. But I was getting so many calls that day I also thought it could be one of my friends. When I answered it I heard "Welcome to the Motor City." I just thought I'm going to Detroit! It was so exciting. It was definitely one of the greatest moments that I've ever experienced and something I will remember for the rest of my life. The emotions that were running through my body were just unbelievable.
POD: Is it true that you have only been playing football for 4 years? In that short amount of time, how did you manage to go from little to no experience to a second round draft pick in the NFL?
IAF: I still wonder that today. I pinch myself every night just to make sure I really am living this dream. It was a long road. It is true that I have only played for four years. I played basketball growing up. I had a lot of people telling me I couldn't do it but I put everything I had into it. You never really know how much you love something until you put everything you have into it. And I love football. When people were telling me I couldn't do it I would use that as fuel to get me through the tough times.
POD: Your father played for the Green Bay Packers, a team that is actually a division rival of the Lions. How did his knowledge of the game of football help you become a better player?
IAF: He has helped tremendously. I was a basketball player growing up and never played football. He was a player and then was a coach too. I was playing basketball and volleyball when I was younger. When I got into football he had so much knowledge of the game that he started sharing with me. He was a quarterback when he played and a defensive coordinator when he coached so he knew both sides of the ball. He led me to do the right things. I just tried to listen to everything he was teaching me and work as hard as I could. Without his influence there's no way I'd be where I am today.
POD: At Hawaii, your collegiate career actually started on the basketball court before ending up on the football field. How did the opportunity to play football come about?
IAF: When I was going into UH June Jones offered me a scholarship even though I had never played football before. Before I started school I used to work out with the football team to stay in shape and get ready for basketball. Obviously Coach Jones saw something in me and offered me a scholarship. I don't know what he saw, I was only 200 pounds. Plus, I really wanted to see what I could do with basketball. After my freshman year I told Coach Jones I did want to play football and he offered me a scholarship again. My dad told Coach that we were not going to take the scholarship. I told me dad I thought he was crazy, he was giving away free money. My dad said "I don't want you to be given anything. You need to earn it." So I was a walkon until my junior year in college. When I got the scholarship coach Jones announced it in front of the entire team. It was just like getting the call from the Lions, the emotion that ran through my body was amazing. My dad paid for my schooling the first couple of years and that just made me work harder so that he wouldn't have to pay any more.
POD: June Jones and Jerry Glanville have been mentioned as playing an important role in developing you into the player you are today. What was it like to play for those two coaches?
IAF: It's been pretty amazing how everything has worked out. I was coached by two professional coaches in college. They are opposites, Coach Glanville was animated and really drove you, while Coach Jones is more easy going. That combination can be scary and look at all the success they have created there. Having Jerry Glanville as my defensive coordinator was great and having June Jones overseeing everything how many players get that kind of opportunity to learn in college?
POD: I've seen you listed as playing many different positions on defense. You actually mentioned in your own blog that you had worked out on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. I imagine at Detroit you will play defensive end, but what position do you feel most comfortable at? Also, is there any chance that we could see you suit up at middle linebacker?
IAF: Right now I am strictly a defensive end. You never know, they are talking about using me at every position on the defensive line, but I'll do whatever the coaches ask. If they want me to play free safety I'll do it. What ever they want I'll do.
POD: Out here in the east I've had the chance to watch Hawaii play many times thanks to the midnight time slot. I've always noticed that you guys play an "in your face" style of defense and then obviously light up opposing defenses with your offense. What was it like to watch guys like Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan just completely shatter passing records, and overall, what was your favorite memory as a member of the Warrior football team?
IAF: It was amazing all the national attention on those quarterbacks but that also put national attention on the whole team. It gave everyone a chance to be looked at. June Jones' offense and philosophy works. Colt Brennan is returning and he's going to be scary. I can't wait to watch. The entire year last year was my most memorable moment. It was amazing just how we came together as a team. Being the team captain of the defense I just wanted to do things for everyone else. It was always a team effort. I am here because of all of them.
POD: Lions coach Rod Marinelli has compared you to a young Cory Redding, who is quickly becoming one of the NFL's premier defensive linemen, how does it feel to be mentioned alongside a player like that?
IAF: Wow. Coming from Coach Marinelli that really means something. I just try to give a great effort every day. It's very humbling to me but it proves what hard work can do for you. I am just going to play hard every day and hope to get to that level.
POD: Rod Marinelli has long been known for his expertise in regards to the defensive line. What are your thoughts about having the chance to play for someone that is such a great coach in that area of play?
IAF: We watch film every day and he has coached the best - Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice. I just hope one day to get to that level. It's funny how it all has worked out. I'm lucky. To have two pro coaches in college and now playing for one of the best defensive line coaches ever. Coach Marinelli is so upbeat and he cares about his players. I will always try my best not to ever let him down.
POD: Being a second round draft pick, I'm sure you'll enjoy the contract that comes along with being picked on the first day of the draft. Some rookies buy a car or a house or something of that matter. Do you have any purchasing plans to help celebrate your entrance into the NFL?
IAF: I'm just going to buy what I need, a place to live and a way to get around. I'll do something for my family. My dad has always kept me humble and has told me now the hard part starts. He's right, I have to work even harder now. He knows what it takes and he has always helped me. I will do something special for them but it's a secret.
POD: What can Lions fans expect to see when you take the field in the famed Honolulu Blue uniforms?
IAF: You are going to get to see this big Hawaiian guy do the best he can. I will run out there like a madman and do the best I can. The people of Detroit are great and I want to play well for them. I know that every time I step on the field I represent more than just myself. I represent the Lions and the City of Detroit. I don't want to let those fans down.
POD: Coming into this experience, what is one goal that you hope to accomplish by next season's end?
IAF: Get better and more experience and hopefully get some sacks along the way. I have one of the greatest jobs in the world and I don't take that for granted. I really like the team and the coaches and I truly believe in my heart that we're going to win. I have very high hopes and I am going to work really hard to help get us there.
Thanks again to Yardbarker and obviously Ikaika Alama-Francis for answering my questions. Ikaika's got a great chance to push for playing time early on and personally, I can't wait to see what he will accomplish.