From flunk out to fan favorite: Arkansas's Sebastian Tretola talks trick plays, pretty boys and much more
Sebastian Tretola is the player every offensive lineman aspires to be: A faux Heisman Trophy candidate who won hearts across the country after throwing a touchdown pass and striking the most memorable pose in college football. From flunk out to fan favorite, Tretola anchors an Arkansas offensive line that gets all the love in Fayetteville. Before the Razorbacks (6–4) host Mississippi State (7–3) Saturday in their quest to stay unbeaten in November, Tretola caught up with Campus Rush to talk trick plays, pretty boys and karaoke.
Campus Rush: Be warned: Everyone has told me you're one of the funniest, most charismatic players in the SEC, so I have high expectations for this.
Sebastian Tretola: They tell me I'm funny, I just hope I can keep making them laugh.
CR: There was a lot of preseason hype about you guys. With a program still learning how to win in one of the toughest leagues in the country, what was the locker room like in September, after that string of losses?
ST: There were a lot of emotions going on: anger, disappointment, just a real irritation. Everybody in this locker room knew how good we were. The coaches, the players, the trainers, anybody who was with the team knew how good we were, it was just a matter of translating that to the field on game day. Obviously we struggled out of the gate (Arkansas started 1–3), but I think that bye week (Oct. 17) was huge for us.
We made a point in our bye week to say, O.K., this is a chance for us to recuperate, get our minds right, just get back to what we know how to do. We looked at it as a whole new party, a whole new season. Obviously it's worked out, we're 4–0 (since then).
CR: By mid-October, a lot of people had written you off. What's it like now, to be back in the spotlight?
ST: It's funny how that works. Obviously that comes with it … it's just about knowing how to handle it. We want to keep playing, doing what we're doing. We don't want it to affect us in any way, shape or form. Obviously you've gotta handle it now because it comes with the territory of doing what you're supposed to do, which is winning.
CR: What do you remember most from that four-overtime, 54–46 win over Auburn on Oct. 24?
ST: There were a few moments. That was just crazy. They make you start doing two-point conversions after a certain point and, to be completely honest, as O-linemen and D-linemen, I might be the only one to admit this, but when you get into those kind of scenarios you don't really do too much.
I guess the D-linemen are worried about the quarterback scrambling, so they're kinda paying attention, but really they're not doing anything. So, if the D-linemen aren't doing anything, the O-linemen aren't doing anything. We kinda sit there and watch as it happens, and you see the guy catch the ball or drop the ball and it's just like, "Oh my God, we have to play another (overtime)?" The whole thing was nuts.
CR: You've been pretty open about your journey to Arkansas, and how it involved flunking out of Nevada and detouring through Iowa for junior college. Was there a defining moment along the way where you realized you needed to get your life together?
ST: It was definitely when I had to go to the juco (Iowa Western Community College). Coming out of high school, I had to grayshirt at Nevada because I didn't make grades. The fact that I had dodged that first bullet, I kept thinking I was glad I didn't have to experience (screwing up), planned on never having to deal with it. A few years later, I wind up flunking out and it's like, Oh my God, I've gotta do it now. So, I end up in Council Bluffs, Iowa. And from day one, no disrespect to Council Bluffs, it's a lovely town, but I am not a cowboy, so that's not my neck of the woods. It gets really cold and really hot. It was not an enjoyable time. It was a change from California! [Editor's note: Tretola went to high school in San Bernandino, Calif.]
But definitely, having to deal with that … going from Division I to juco, you kinda get a chance to see the glitz and the glamour and realize how good you have it. Having to go (down) it's like, man, you're back in the grind. At the same time, you're meeting other guys who are in the same situation, and some who are fresh out of high school. I think the combo of all those things, really, was a smack in the face. You've gotta do what you've gotta do or it's over. It can go downhill very fast. That's what got my head on straight. I've been minding my Ps and Qs ever since then.
CR: So, you went from California and Nevada to Iowa. What was that culture shock like?
ST: The nearest McDonald's is, like, 15 minutes away. Now, you know, everywhere you go, there's a McDonald's. They're on every corner. The fact that there's not a McDonald's in the area, I was shocked by that. And really, any necessity, you have to drive. You are really in the middle of nowhere (in Council Bluffs). It's a school, and then there's corn fields. It was crazy.
CR: Since you first showed up at Arkansas, you've lost about 50 pounds. How did you do it? Are you a kale junkie? A hot yoga addict?
ST: (laughs) When I first got here, the first 15-20 pounds were lost just because I had been home (in California) not doing anything. I played basketball sometimes or maybe I'd go lift, but I wasn't consistent. And my mom is the best cook in the world! She makes beef enchiladas and the sauce is homemade and it is (sighs) unreal. So … it messed me up a little bit, I came in here kinda heavy. So, just activity from fall camp was the first 15-20 pounds. Then the other 30 was good diet. (Strength and conditioning) coach Ben Herbert is the best at what he does and he's gonna get you to believe in what you're doing. Today I'm 320 pounds, and moving around like I'm 17 again.
CR: You became an Internet hero after throwing a touchdown pass on a fake field goal in last October's win over UAB. When you walk around campus, are you hounded for autographs?
ST: They kinda stopped doing that after the first week. But they still do look at me. It's always funny catching them look at you and then they look away cause they realize, "Oh, it's Tretola!" and then they'll subtly look out of the corner of their eye. But the autographs have calmed down.
CR: How many times have you requested that you guys run that play again? Do you work on passing in practice pretty regularly?
ST: I definitely talked to Coach B(ielema) about letting me run one in or catch a TD, but I don't know, it hasn't been able to work out. But we've got three more games. Something might be in the works!
CR: What are the chances you could catch a touchdown pass?
ST: (laughs) I think coach would have to go to the refs and let them know. I think they need to be aware that I'm an eligible receiver.
CR: You and Baylor's LaQuan McGowan, winning hearts across the country. You play for a coach who loves offensive linemen and wants to give them lots of attention. Do you ever worry that quarterbacks or running backs feel left out? Do you ever feel bad for receivers?
ST: (laughs) Oh my goodness, not at all. Since the dawn of time, since football was invented—whichever happened first—the quarterback is the shining star, the face of the team. And then he has his little pieces, the running backs, the receivers, the pretty boys. They're out there to look good. Then it's the big uglies. And everybody knows the big uglies don't get to shine … Coach B, I think it's huge how he gives us attention. He uses it for recruiting. When you're an 18-year-old kid coming to visit and Arkansas offers you, you know there's one (offensive lineman) who has thrown a touchdown, and three who have been the SEC Lineman of the Week. You have all these badges of honor. What he does with the O-line, it's a major part of his success and how he runs his team.
At the end of the day, the skill guys are always going to get the love, and that's fine. The big boys, that's why we take that job: We don't need the attention. We always have the option to lose weight and go run around like them, but we want to be fat. So, they put us up front, and we handle it from there.
CR: I've heard from Arkansas insiders that you're a neat freak, and there's a rumor about a legendary meltdown that happened when some guys made your locker messy. Can you give me some details?
ST: The guys make it sound a little worse, but it is what it is. I like to know where everything is, how it's placed. I fold all my clothes a particular way, put my socks away right. The equipment guys, after every game, they'll unload our travel bags. Shoulder pads, knee braces, helmets, all that stuff. And every week, they don't put it back right. (Laughs) And I don't want to be a jerk about it but, man, if I tell you where to put it, just put it there!
Now, this is prior to everybody knowing I'm like this, but once they messed everything up. They put tape on it, threw my stuff on the ground and I lost my mind. I'm not going to repeat specifically what was said, but there were some words exchanged. I think from then on they understood: "Yeah, we probably shouldn't mess with his locker."
CR: If the five starting offensive linemen at Arkansas were to do a group karaoke performance, what would be the song of choice?
ST: Wow. Wow. "Bell Biv DeVoe," Poison. We're big boys, so with that, you're naturally a fan of not a twig, of things not tree branch size, know what I'm saying? It's like BBD says—never trust a big butt and a smile.