Evan Weaver, often a stream-of-consciousness interview, rarely has strayed from the script on the field over the past two seasons.
When Cal’s senior linebacker did cross the line, it came most recently in the form of an unsportsmanlike penalty for punting the ball in reckless celebration after the defense made a third-down stop against UCLA.
“I’ve been telling them I won punt, pass and kick when I was 8, 9 years old, so give me a chance to let me punt it,” Weaver said after practice recently. “I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty good kick.
“But . . . probably not the smartest idea.”
Mostly, Weaver has made the right play. And he’s made more of them than virtually any player in America, enough to earn Pac-12 Defensive Player or the Year and consensus All-America honors this season.
For Weaver, it’s been a matter of harnessing his natural talents and directing them within the scheme of Cal’s defense.
“He is unique . . . he is an original,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said, alluding to Weaver’s flamboyant personality. “He’s not perfect. He is an ultra-productive football player.”
Weaver insists he’s always known how to direct his energies in the right way.
“I’ve always been able to turn it off when I get off the field. If you don’t, you end up in jail,” he said. “Just being able to understand the game a little more — I think that’s most of it. Understanding what’s going on around you. Understanding everybody on the field, the plays that are being made, the situations.”
It’s in that way that Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter believes Weaver has made his biggest strides as a senior.
“I think he’s got a better overall understanding of the game. He’s always been kind of a natural football player, but I think he understands now how offenses are trying to attack us,” DeRuyter said.
In any case, Weaver clearly enjoys playing defense. He revels in making tackles and plays with an enthusiasm that suggests he believes he should make every one of them.
“The reason he's so productive is he does play with an edge,” Wilcox said. “He is a physical, competitive, aggressive person. As a coach, you need to know where players are at their best and we’ve got to try to get him there and keep him there without crossing the line.”
Weaver’s big personality and his willingness to have fun with the media should not distract from the larger point: “You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a person that’s had more production at his position,” Wilcox said.
We wondered about that and did a bit of research to test the theory. How do Weaver’s school-record 173 tackles (and counting) compare to the national leaders in other major statistical categories?
So here are the 2019 FBS leaders and the percentage of their statistical totals compared with the NCAA single-season record:
— Rushing yards
NCAA record: 2,628 yards - Barry Sanders. Oklahoma State, 1988
2019 leader: 1,936 yards - Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State
Hubbard’s percentage of record: 73.7 percent
Hubbard’s projected percentage (after bowl game): 79.8 percent
— Passing yards
NCAA record: 5,833 yards - B.J. Symons, Texas Tech, 2003
2019 leader: 5,228 yards - Anthony Gordon, Washington State
Gordon’s percentage of record: 89.6 percent
— Receiving yards
NCAA record: 2,060 yards - Trevor Insley, Nevada, 1999
2019 leader: 1,653 yards - Omar Bayless, Arkansas State
Bayless’ percentage of record: 80.2 percent
— Total tackles
NCAA record: 193 tackles - Lawrence Flugence, Texas Tech, 2002
2019 leader: 173 tackles - Evan Weaver, Cal, 2019
Weaver’s percentage of record: 89.6 percent
Weaver’s projected percentage (after bowl game): 97.1 percent
Weaver needs 21 tackles to eclipse the record, and it’s certainly not out of the question, given that he has three games this season with at least that many.
Weaver isn’t really about the numbers. He’d enjoy setting the record, but he’s more interested in closing out his college career with a victory over Illinois in Monday’s Redbox Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
Recruited by Oregon, Washington and Utah out of Spokane, Wash., Weaver wanted his legacy to be helping to establish a program.
“I wanted to go to a place where I could be part of the turnaround. And I feel like this was the place to do it. They had one of the worst defenses in the country,” Weaver said. “Always wanted to be part of that turnaround. That’s what we did in high school and what we’ve done here. Just wanted to be part of that team that put us in the right direction.”
One of the nation’s worst defensive units under former coach Sonny Dykes, Cal now is known for defense and will play in a bowl game for a second straight season largely because of it.
“He’s a guy that’s got a little bit of a swagger to him but he backed it all up,” DeRuyter said. “I can’t say enough about what he’s done for Cal football, our defense in particular. I know he’s made our entire unit better and he’s well-deserving of all those awards.”
Weaver, safety Ashtyn Davis and several other key players are ready to move on from Cal, but Weaver is convinced a defensive foundation has been set that will serve the Bears well going forward.
“I think we have enough depth and guys that really want to play, really want to be here and are willing to put in the work,” he said. “That’s the biggest part — getting guys who are willing to put in the work for 365 days a year. I feel like coach Wilcox has done a great job building that core and it’s just going to improve from here.
“They've just signed a great recruiting class, and got a few more dudes from Washington, so that’s good to see. Super-excited to see where they go.”
DeRuyter chuckles when asked what it’s been like to coach Weaver.
“He’s a guy who has tremendous confidence in his ability, but he backs it up with his play. He’s right on that line. He’s been fun to coach,” he said. “Every now and then, coach (Peter) Sirmon and coach Wilcox have to get him back on our side of the line. But for the most part, he just walks the line and stays on the right side of it.”
Although Weaver’s name isn’t found in most NFL mock drafts, Wilcox is confident that Weaver’s total package will translate to playing on Sundays.
“No, I don't have a doubt. He’ll play. It’ll be the right fit, the right place. You cannot deny production,” Wilcox said. “The game of football on defense is, 'Don’t let the other team go that way and cross that line.' So you tackle them to prevent them from doing that. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s hard to deny.”
Weaver says scouts are waiting for him to chug across the 40-yard dash finish line in 4.8 seconds at the NFL combine.
“That’s a joke. I could run that sideways,” he said, suggesting he will run in the low 4.6 range.
“That’s really the only question.”
Weaver says scouts will find that he is a combination of all they are looking for.
“There’s plenty of athletes that don’t play football and there’s plenty of dudes who are football players who can play ball. I’m an athlete but I can play ball,” he said. “If you want to win games, you pick me. If you don’t, you end up sitting in the cellar.
“Im not worried about playing in the league. We can talk in four or five years when I’m signing another contract and half the dudes that got drafted ahead of me are out of the league.”
In the meantime, Weaver is thinking only about his final game with the Bears on Monday.
“It’s cool, but it kind of sucks a little bit,” he said.”I’ve had a fun time, made some really good friends here. There’s going to be multiple different emotions going on.
“I want to win the game. I want to enjoy the experience, be able to soak it all in, really.”