From Lewiston -- An interception that turned around a program is part of the legacy that Toni Pole will be leaving behind him when he finishes his football career this season. As a senior member of the football team, Pole is intent on adding to that legacy. We had a minute to speak to Pole after a practice in Lewiston and he had a lot of great things to say.
CougCenter: Toni, you're a senior this year. Everything that you are doing, you're doing for the last time. Has that really started to sink into you yet?
Pole: Slowly and slowly I realize that every day that goes by is a day I don't get back, especially because it's my last go-around. I tell myself that every day I get off the bus that this is my last go-around. Coaches talk to me about what kind of legacy you want to leave here. Not only just on the field, but with the players around me. It's the relationships that I build with the people I encounter on a daily basis. I was raised with good morals and I want to represent my family back home and my family as Cougar Nation as well. I want to go out with a bang this year and no regrets. I just want to go out with no regrets.
CougCenter: When you came out here as a sophomore, people were always talking about the defensive line being a weakness. Now everybody is talking about the defensive line as a strength. Did you feel any motivation from the criticism the line took in your earlier times here?
Pole: I think it's just the same criticism as everybody else if you're not getting the job done up front. That's not good enough if we are losing. That's what I always tell myself. That goes for everybody. I feel like motivation comes with those tight games we lose. We need to push ourselves more. You don't want that bad taste in your mouth. So we come out in the offseason, we bust our ass every day. We challenge ourselves consistently, consistently. Coaches are right. You're only a product of what you do on and off the field. We worked hard in the classroom. We worked hard off the field, and it's starting to show. These younger D-lineman just take that and go with it.
CougCenter: I talked to Cyrus Coen the other day and he mentioned you as somebody that mentored him and helped bring him along. Can you talk about your role as a mentor?
Pole: Cyrus is definitely one of my brothers on the team. We're with each other all the time. He's my roommate. I live with him. We just talk about the similarities even though we play different positions, off the field stuff, mental growth, just growing up away from family. You have to adjust to expectations and you don't meet it sometimes. It really takes a toll on you mentally, I'm putting in all this work and it's not showing up. So I talk to Cyrus about that. It just made me a better person. You realize more about yourself and try to work on it and get better. Me and Cyrus and all the boys, we just work out together and we never stop working out. We try to be the best on the field. Cyrus is doing a great job out there. I have a lot of love for that kid Cyrus and all my brothers. I have a lot of good relationships on this team.
CougCenter: What does Coach Joe Salave'a mean to you?
Pole: It's hard to explain the type of mentor Coach Salave'a is. Not only a father figure, but off of football just a consistent mentor. He doesn't change with you. If it's not right, he's going to fix it. He always talks to you about honest work. He talks about you being honest with yourself. It kind of opened my eyes. Is that honestly the best I can go? He's pushed me. He does that not only for me, but for the other players on the team. Coach Joe is one of the greatest motivators I have ever been around. He knows what to say to pick up our spirits and get us going. I feel blessed to be coached by him. He's played this sport a long time. It's something you want to emulate. And if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us.
CougCenter: Toni, you mentioned something about leaving a legacy. You already have one of the biggest legacies around here with one of the biggest plays in program history when you helped turn the program around with that interception in the Apple Cup. How big was that win for the team?
Pole: That senior group that year, they put in a lot of work. They bought into the program, but we didn't get enough players to do something. Travis Long is a player that I looked up to. He went down that week. We opened up our hearts to play with a bit of passion like we had Travis on the field with us. Honestly, I played that game for him. We all came together and it was really gratifying for us to come out and be down in the fourth quarter and still persevere and win the game. That kind of set of us for how we were going to play the next season.