INDIANAPOLIS — For Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil, football success runs in the family.
His father, Frank, played pro football in the United States Football League in the 1980s. His brother, Ryan, played center at USC and now plays for the Carolina Panthers.
Matt followed Ryan to USC and became the latest in a line of great Trojans tackles that includes Hall of Famers Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz and former All-Pro Tony Boselli. Kalil is projected to be a top-five pick in the draft and become the next great pro in the Trojan pipeline.
Those factors make the 6-foot-7, 306-pounder confident that he will be the best tackle available in April's draft.
"At quarterback or tackle or any big-time position, confidence is definitely a big part of your game," he said. "They want to hear that you think you're the best tackle and I think I am. I've definitely worked hard going through S.C., working on every little thing I can to be a better player. I'm definitely ready to take my skills to the next level."
Ryan has been helping his younger brother prepare for the NFL for years.
"My brother's almost kind of laid the path for me," he said. "I've always had my brother there to help me know what to expect and kind of having that tool there to help me in any way possible."
Kalil recalls getting thrown around by his big brother in drills as a youngster, an experience that helped him develop an edge.
"I wouldn't say nasty, more of an aggressive player," he said. "I definitely like to finish all the way from the snap to the whistle, impose my will on my opponent and basically let them know I'm on the field and I'm going to be on the field for the rest of the game. That's where I get that demeanor from."
Kalil said his father didn't force football on his sons.
"He made it clear that we could play whatever sport we wanted to, but if we wanted to play football and we wanted his help, it was going to be his way or he wouldn't help us," he said. "It was definitely a choice we made, and I think that's what made it so great for us, that we want to play football and we love the sport."
The USC tradition became even stronger last year. Tyron Smith, another tackle, was the ninth pick in the 2011 draft, and he started for the Dallas Cowboys this past season.
"Coming into S.C. with Tyron and knowing what a good player he is, hopefully I can be half the player he is in the NFL," Kalil said. "He's an outstanding player and one of my good buddies."
The family history and the USC tackle tradition have heightened expectations.
"It's just a responsibility I have to take," he said. "I have to work as hard as I can and do whatever I can to excel at the position. But first off, wherever I get drafted, I'm not going to be given a spot, I have to earn it. And that's definitely something I'm looking forward to doing."
Kalil feels he can improve his strength and his run blocking.
"You strive for perfection," he said. "You can never get there, but you set a high goal for yourself just to become a better player."
Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin believes he's better than Kalil. Their teams were Pac-12 rivals, and the two are friends who respect each other. Stanford defeated USC 56-48 in three overtimes last season, and Martin wouldn't mind defeating Kalil again on draft day.
"As a competitor, you've got to think you're the best," Martin said. "Matt's a tremendous player, but I think I'm the best. I believe in myself as a player. There's nothing cocky about it, it's just that that's how I approach my game coming into an event like this."
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"Me and John are good friends," Kalil said. "He's a great tackle. He's really athletic, really big. One of the best tackles I've seen. I've definitely watched him on film, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what kind of player he is, and he's definitely going to do a great job wherever he goes."
Kalil doesn't care who drafts him.
"What I've done through this draft process is do all I can to show the coaches who I am, perform the best I can over here at the combine, running, show my athleticism and basically do whatever I can to become a better player," he said. "That's all I can focus on. I don't have control of who drafts me, that has to do with the coaches and owners."
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