(KPIX)- The NFL Draft is about a month away, and despite no longer being a public event, it is still on the minds of sports fans everywhere. Hundreds of prospects are hoping to hear their names called the weekend of April 23rd-25th, and former Cal Bears star linebacker Evan Weaver is among them.
If you watched a Cal game over the last two years, you likely heard Weaver's name on repeat. The 6'3" 235-pound backer made 336 tackles over the course of his junior and senior seasons. He led the nation in solo tackles in 2019 with 103. And the number of awards won is enough to fill a trophy case before he even enters the NFL. Just to name a few: Consensus AP All-American, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, finalist for the Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy and Senior Class Award.
All of those accolades are great, but Weaver will be the first to tell you his team's success matters more. While the Bears didn't win the conference, they steadily improved in his four seasons going from 5-7 in his freshman year to 8-5 and winners of the Redbox Bowl his senior year. Plenty of doubt has been cast over Weaver's athleticism, but that makes him all the more eager to prove people wrong. This is his story, in his words, lightly edited.
I first got into football playing flag when I was four years old before beginning tackle football in the first game. I fell in love with the game right away. That first year, I played running back and linebacker because I was bigger and faster than anybody else out there. The contact, the team aspect, and honestly, winning felt good, and my lover affair began.
It wasn't all football, though. I tried every sport, playing football, baseball, basketball and soccer up through the fifth grade. At that point I had to drop soccer and, as high school came, basketball was out the door as well. The focus narrowed to baseball and football.
I'm happy I played those other sports growing up though because I'm not really a fan of this one sport all year round that kids are doing nowadays. You don't only miss out on the different athletic aspects of the sport, you miss out on the different types of people that you will meet and the different life lessons that will come with it.
From an athletic standpoint, basketball really helped with my lateral movement and stop and start athleticism, while baseball developed my hand-eye coordination and reaction speed.
Baseball was honestly probably me best sport. I had offers to go and play in college after my freshman year. My first football offers didn't come in until after sophomore year. But baseball doesn't give out full scholarships, and once I realized around my junior year that I could get a full ride playing football, that's when I started to look at the game in a different way.
Growing up in Washington, I had been a Seahawks fan throughout my life. But, once I got to the point of realizing I could use football to get to the next level, it became a "whoever will take a chance on me" mindset. I just wanted to play.
This might sting some Cal fans, but I grew up a Washington Husky fan actually. My parents had season tickets since '92, when they got out of college, and I could have gone there. But I wanted to do something different and forge my own path. My first offer actually was Washington State. I think at that point my parents said you know what, this is your decision. We're going to support you wherever you go, and we're going to go to every game no matter what.
The support from my parents was huge, and I feel like Cal really stuck out academically. I wanted to be a part of the program that would turn them back around to what they were in the '04, '06, '07 type of team. Even though it might have stung my parents a little to see me go to a Pac-12 North rival, I think they got over it after we beat Washington my junior and senior years. (Editor's note: Weaver had 29 combined tackles and an interception return for a touchdown as the Bears knocked off two top 15-ranked Husky teams in 2018 & 2019).
The transition to Cal wasn't the easiest the first couple of years for a variety of reasons. The most prominent being a change in coaching staffs between my freshman and sophomore years. I began my career as a defensive end, but when the new staff came in, I was moved first to outside linebacker and then again to middle linebacker just five days before our first game in 2018.
But, in the midst of the changes, I really focused on figuring out the football IQ side of the game, the communication part that goes into playing middle linebacker. All the checks and everything just so that I wouldn't have any surprises out there on the field. I feel like playing all three positions helped me learn the whole playbook and understand what everybody else is doing.
You never really have a question when you're playing, and when you don't have questions when you're playing, you're playing fast. I feel like that is what I was able to do my junior year and especially my senior year.
So, while I have heard all the critiques of my athleticism, I also think I have proven that I can be productive regardless of what my "numbers" are. In addition, my mindset has always been, somebody tells me what I need to work on, I'm going to go do it and make sure I work harder than anybody else.
I feel like my biggest question right now from what I hear is, can he play man coverage? We never did it that much in college but, when I did it, I covered slot receivers, I covered tight ends, I covered running backs. Understanding a defense helps you play 1-on-1s a lot better. That is something I'm willing to work on. It may be a question in my game right now, but you know what, we'll see three years from now.
My parents instilled that mindset and work ethic in me, always reminding me that everything is earned, nothing is given. It's that focus and willingness to work that has kept me going even in the midst of a process that has been much different due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of at facility visits, they're now doing Skype visits. I have had a few of those and just keeping that communication going, still training, still working out as if nothing has changed. On the football field when the play happens, nothing is going to go your way, but you need to find a way to get it done. The football field has honestly helped me right now in this situation. I have just been sticking to it, and whoever gets me is going to get a good one.
I bring a hyper-competitive mindset, a winning attitude and a no-BS type of deal. I'm here for perfection, and I'm not going to settle for anything less than that. In a game of football, that isn't really attainable, but I feel like you have to always have that mindset and be striving for perfection. Any team that drafts me, that's what the fanbase can expect to see on Sundays.
One final thing, and it's a question I get asked a lot. My number: 89. Where does it come from? The number actually comes from high school (Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, Washington). Our high school gives it to a player who shows exemplary on the field and off the field, being a good person in the community and on the field a guy who has the potential to make it in the NFL. It was an ongoing tradition at my high school, and they don't give it out every year. So, it's a number I fell in love with, and it gives a little homage back to my hometown.
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