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Evan Weaver Has Spent Life Preparing To Tackle NFL Career

Intense linebacker is "built for the position"

New Cardinals linebacker Evan Weaver led the nation with 182 tackles in 2019 while playing at the University of California.
New Cardinals linebacker Evan Weaver led the nation with 182 tackles in 2019 while playing at the University of California.

When he was young – and Evan Weaver started playing tackle football in first grade – he knew he had to tackle.

And there were potential consequences if he did not.

"My mom would yell at me from the stands, 'Wrap 'em up, wrap 'em up,' " the inside linebacker the Cardinals made their sixth-round pick said Friday during a Zoom press conference. "If I missed the tackle or something, I'd have to do like 50 pushups before I'd even get in the car after the game."

Would there be incentives if he was successful?

"The only incentive was I'd get a ride home," Weaver said, "and got food when I got home."

Something worked, because the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder became a tackling machine. He nearly broke Luke Kuechly's collegiate record for tackles in a season as a senior at California, a year that was simply a continuation of the hurt he had put on ballcarriers for his entire career.

It's hard to imagine he would've had to do pushups very often.

"I'm built for the position," Weaver said. "There's not a lot of people who really want to make the plays, and I'm one of those dudes who wants to make every play I can."

Weaver's intensity shines through even in an interview setting. While he played various sports growing up, football has long been his love. When the fifth round of the draft passed without his getting picked, a frustrated Weaver inflicted some damage to a clothes dresser in his house, he acknowledged.

He insisted he doesn't worry about what others think of him, although he clearly is aware of the analysis that he reached his college heights – he was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year – from sheer effort instead of athleticism.

"You know, 4.4 40s don't win you Super Bowls," Weaver said. "Guys who are willing to make the play win you Super Bowls."

The Cardinals first met with Weaver at the Senior Bowl in January. Even then, Cardinals GM Steve Keim said, he could feel Weaver's intense vibe.

"It was two seconds until you realized the saying, 'It's better to say 'woah' than sic 'em' " Keim said. "It was like 'Easy, Francis, chill out a little bit.' He's ready to roll."

Weaver makes no apologies. He approached every pre-draft meeting the same, in an effort to make plain who these teams might be drafting.

"I hate people who generically answer the questions and it is pre-thought out," Weaver said. "That's not the player you will see day to day. I was going to let them know who I was. I'm a pretty fiery dude. I want to compete with everything I do."

Coincidentally, Weaver comes to the former team of the player for which the Pac-12 DPOY award is named – Pat Tillman – and it's not hard to see some comparisons. Like Weaver, Tillman, who was picked at the tail end of the 1997 draft, was hugely productive in the Pac-10 yet didn't carry many expectations into the pros.

"I know Pat was a super fiery competitor, a one-of-a-kind guy," Weaver said. "Always there for the team, always wanted to win. Did everything he could. Then he went and served our country. I would hate to be compared to that, because no one compared to Pat."

Weaver has a fire all his own, one that allowed him to notch 182 tackles this season, just nine short of the record set by Kuechly when he was at Boston College.

"That's kind of his edge out there on the football field," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

The tackling comes naturally, from the burn within.

"I wasn't really chasing stats, I was chasing wins," Weaver said. "It's pretty cool to be up there with Luke Kuechly, but now I have to translate it to the NFL."

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