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Q&A with Washington defensive tackle Greg Gaines ahead of the Rose Bowl

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 29, 2018, 9:05 p.m.

Washington’s Greg Gaines, with a “W” tattooed on his arm, tries to bust past North Dakota players during a Sept. 8 game  in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington’s Greg Gaines, with a “W” tattooed on his arm, tries to bust past North Dakota players during a Sept. 8 game in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Adam Jude Seattle Times

LOS ANGELES – Greg Gaines, the Washington Huskies’ senior from La Habra, California, and winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12’s top defensive lineman, can look forward to a busy spring.

Gaines and his wife, Sheyeann, are expecting a baby boy in late March. In late April, Gaines should hear his name called in the NFL Draft.

But before all that, he will play in Tuesday’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State, which will mark Gaines’ 54th appearance for the Huskies – tying Keishawn Bierria’s school record set last year.

“If I make it to the game,” Gaines joked at Saturday morning’s Rose Bowl news conference. “Don’t want to jinx it.”

Here’s more from Gaines:

Q: What makes this team so special?

A: I think it’s just like we’ve been together for a long time. We’re all in that like Coach Pete (Chris Petersen) era now. We’re all like those OKGs (Our Kind of Guy), and we all just fit together really well. There’s no cliques in the locker room and no fighting or anything like that. Everyone loves each other. I think that’s really the key to our success is we all just fight for each other.

Q: What’s one thing he’s done? If you could put one stamp, one word on what Coach Pete does that’s so impressive to you?

A: I think he just changed the culture in the locker room. I remember when I first got here, like the seniors were mean to the freshmen, you know, how like it normally is. Now we just switched that culture around and now we include everyone and make everyone feel like they’re important and respected. I think it just makes like the whole team more cohesive.

Q: How much fun has this been? You’ve got Disneyland and the prime rib (dinner). It’s been a fun ride, but you’ve got a game coming up as well?

A: Yeah, it’s definitely fun. You’ve just got to focus at practice, and when you’re at something fun like that, you get to focus on that. You get a little time away from football. All the other hours of the day are for football.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge with this Ohio State team?

A: I think keeping that quarterback contained is going to be hard. Dwayne Haskins is quite the athlete. He was on the Heisman ballot. That’s definitely going to be one of the challenges we’re going to face on defense for sure.

Q: How does it feel to be back in Southern California, close to home?

A: It feels pretty cool. I mean, I haven’t been back in a long time. My parents moved out of Southern California to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Whenever I go home, it’s to Coeur d’Alene. So I haven’t been back in like three years or so. So a lot of stuff’s changed in my little hometown. It’s pretty cool coming back.

Q: Growing up in the area, did you ever dream that you’d be able to play in the Rose Bowl?

A: Yeah, definitely, I always like – my uncle was a big UCLA guy. He played football there back in the ’80s, and I remember watching games, like at UCLA, and just thinking about like playing in the actual Rose Bowl, like the Rose Bowl game would be incredible. I’ve never actually been to a Rose Bowl, but I’m definitely excited, and I’ve dreamed about it for a long time.

Q: Do you have any ideas about what it may feel like when you step onto the field and see the stadium split in half like that?

A: I don’t know. It holds like 105,000 people in there, and it’s going to be packed. That’s going to be awesome. Never played in front of that many people before.

Q: During your recruiting process, were you getting looked at by USC, UCLA, all the Pac-12 schools?

A: Yeah, a little bit, but I never had any offers for Pac-12 teams. I think they might have offered me later, but I’d already committed to Boise State, and then when Coach Pete switched over to Washington, I was committed there almost immediately after.

Q: What was it about Coach Petersen that – obviously, it wasn’t just Boise. It was Coach Petersen’s appeal. What was it about him?

A: I just think that he seemed like really genuine and really cared about his players, and he cared about the academics, too, and not just football. That was something I wanted to be a part of no matter where it was. I really liked Boise, but I came up here and took a visit to Washington, yeah, upgrade to Pac-12. I’m in. Fine with me. Stick with Coach Pete.

Q: How did that genuineness come across during the recruiting process?

A: Yeah, you can just kind of tell when people are like blowing smoke just to make you feel good or special. Coach Pete wasn’t really like that, and it was kind of cool, and that’s one of the reasons I decided to go with him.

Q: This is a team that had a few really tough losses this year, but you bounced back. You finished the season strong and then put on a tough performance in the Pac-12 championship. What is it specifically about this group of seniors and their leadership, do you think, that sort of allowed this team to come together?

A: You know, we’ve got a lot of good guys, a lot of like really good leaders on this team like Ben (Burr-Kirven) and Jojo McIntosh right here. These guys definitely, like, bring our unit together even more. We have a lot of seniors in each position group too, which helps lead for each specific unit. And then once all the units get together, we form a great defense, and we play for each other. I think that’s what it really comes down to is just like the culture of our team.

Q: You guys were at the Lawry’s Beef Bowl. You went to Disneyland. What has it been like being part of this iconic Bowl game?

A: It’s definitely cool. Growing up nearby, I definitely wanted to play in the Rose Bowl my whole life. It’s definitely been a dream of mine. And it’s kind of cool, I haven’t been to Disneyland in like eight years. That was cool. I was like remembering all the stuff when I was a kid. I’ve never been to Lawry’s before. It was really good prime rib. So that was awesome. And it was all you can eat, too.

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