Cal Football: Ex-Bears All-American Ron Rivera Applauds Evan Weaver's Spectacular Season

Jeff Faraudo

Ron Rivera was an All-America linebacker at Cal, a nine-year NFL player and is now in his ninth season as head coach of the Carolina Panthers.

So he knows something about what it takes to play in the NFL, and he’s impressed by Cal senior Evan Weaver.

But beyond the skills Weaver has shown while leading the nation in tackles this fall, Rivera loves the intangibles he sees.

“He's a lot of fun to watch because he plays with a lot of passion. It looks like he’s having fun,” said Rivera, who said he’s watched Cal play on TV three times.

Rivera tuned in for the Ole Miss game, when Weaver had 22 tackles, and the Washington game, when he posted 18.

“I’m not just watching casually, there's a professional interest, obviously,” Rivers said. “Cal’s got a number of players that a lot of teams are talking about.

“It’s cool to hear people talk about (Weaver’s) ability. And then you see it translate on the field.”

Weaver enters Cal’s game Saturday against Washington State with 127 tackles — 19 more than any other player at the FBS level. His 15.9 tackles per game also leads the country, as do his 69 solo tackles.

He is on pace to challenge Hardy Nickerson’s single-season Cal record of 167 tackles, set in 1985.

Weaver is among 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker. He earned a spot on most mid-season All-America teams, and could become Cal’s first linebacker to earn that distinction since Rivera was a consensus choice 36 years ago.

Weaver has climbed to fourth on Cal’s career tackles list with 357, having passed Rivera after collecting 22 more at Utah two weeks ago. Rivera totaled 336 tackles in his career, culminating with his 1983 senior season when he set Cal’s still-standing record of 26.5 tackles for loss.

Weaver is unlikely to climb any higher on Cal’s career chart, which is topped by David Ortega (525 from 1986-89), Nickerson (501 from 1983-86) and Jerrott Willard (469 from 1991-94).

Nickerson went on to become a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro who had 1,584 tackles in a 16-year NFL career before being named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s.

Weaver may also have Sunday football in his future.

“He plays fast, he plays physical, he plays with his eyes,” Rivera said. “I think a guy like him with his skill set has an opportunity.”

But is Weaver even guaranteed to be selected in the 2020 NFL draft?

WalterFootball.com rates Weaver no better than the No. 14 inside linebacker prospect, although CBS.com ranks him as the No. 39 overall draft prospect and second among linebackers.

His former Cal sidekick Jordan Kunaszyk, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection last fall, went undrafted before signing with the Panthers as a free agent. Kunaszyk has played in five games for Carolina this season.

“I really enjoyed watching the way he played,” Rivera said of Kunaszyk, who had 147 tackles for Cal in 2018. “What made him appealing to us as a preferred free agent is they play a very similar style of football as we do in terns of the Xs and Os, sort of a hybrid 3-4.

“That’s why their skill set and their games transfer well to us.”

(Click here for a funny video on how eager Weaver is to hit people.)

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