Any parent with a kid in sports knows the routine. When they're little, you toss the football or kick the soccer ball out in the yard. Pretty soon you're driving them to practices, road trips to far-away fields, searching the garage for that missing cleat, freezing in the rain, guiding them through the setbacks and successes. These are the scenes of a great American childhood.
For most parents, it fades at some point, as other interests flare up and it gets harder to win a spot on the team. For Todd and Christine Weaver — longtime friends of mine — it just kept going... and is still going.
Christine says their son Evan was born with a nuclear stockpile of energy. "When he was little, we had to put a lock way at the top of the front door. He figured out how to get out, and he'd just take off down the road. He did not want to be inside — no interest, none."
At Cataldo middle school, Evan started pushing around older, bigger kids when he was in sixth grade. In high school at Gonzaga Prep, he wound up as the best player in the state.
Evan is now 6-foot-3 and about 235 pounds of muscle — an icon of the University of California gridiron, where he piles up tackles with Old Spice-levels of swagger. With four more regular season games to go, he's putting the finishing touches on what could stack up as one of the best two-season runs of any college linebacker.
For Todd and Christine, and often Evan's big sister Tess, the road trips these past four years have been to places like Los Angeles, Mississippi, even Australia. In January, they'll go watch him at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. In April, perhaps they'll be making a trip to the NFL draft in Las Vegas.
"Evan's always loved football," Todd says. "He loves the bonding, loves the challenge. Evan's internally driven to be the best guy out there."
And so grows the legend of Evan Weaver.
EVAN LEARNS TO CHUCK IT
When he was baby in his crib, Evan would take his empty bottle and chuck it across the room. "He was probably 8 months old," Todd says. "Then he'd go, 'Mom... Mom... Mom...'"
"That kid was always starving," Christine says. "We'd hear 'clunk!' and find his bottle way across the room."
EVAN SCHOOLS THE TEACHER
One day in first grade, Evan's teacher was reminding him he needed to work hard to learn to read. "I don't need to learn to read," his teacher later recounted Evan telling her. "I'm going to play pro football."
She answered something to the effect of, "Well, you'll need to read your contract then!"
"Oh," Evan answered, "my mom's an attorney, so she can read it for me."
EVAN BEATS BASEBALL
When Evan was about 7, during a coach-pitched baseball game, he somehow made a quadruple play. His coach at the time, Kelly Graves, now the Oregon women's basketball coach and still kind of in disbelief, recounted the tale for a recent profile of Evan in The Athletic.
"Those baseball parents," Christine recalls, "they were so mean, sitting there saying, 'How old is that kid?'"
"They'd be like, 'No way he's only 10!'" adds Todd. "And we'd say, 'You're right, he's 8.' Evan always had to play up with the older kids."
EVAN THE BULLPUP BULLBEAST
At Gonzaga Prep, Evan was ready to roll. "They put Evan in for a senior on the defensive line the second series of his sophomore year," recalls Todd. "He never left after that."
Going into his senior year, the coaches felt they needed a little help at running back; Evan wound up with more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, to go with his career 45 sacks and 393 tackles.
The Bullpups won the state championship his senior year, never losing a game. He was the Seattle Times Washington Defensive Player of the Year and had 13 scholarship offers, including from Oregon and Washington.
EVAN GOES TO COLLEGE
Evan's first tackle as a California Bear was a sack of QB Shane Buechele, then of the University of Texas, now of SMU. Evan languished as a freshman, playing special teams and trying to break into the rotation as an undersized defensive end. The D that year was a mess, finishing 125th out of 130 college teams. After the season, the coaching staff was fired and Justin Wilcox took over.
"For fall camp, they moved Evan to outside linebacker," says Todd. "The week before the North Carolina game [their first that year], they moved him inside." Again, Evan never left that position.
EVAN TORMENTS THE HUSKIES
Evan's dad is a Husky. Evan went to a lot of Husky games as a kid. But when No. 15 UW visited Berkeley last October, there was no mercy. Evan's pick-six, perhaps the highlight of that Pac 12 season, still lives in Husky fans' nightmares.
"All I remember is dropping back in coverage and catching it," Evans says now. "I don't remember anything else until guys were jumping on me in the end zone."
Cal won that game 12-10, then, just to rub it in, beat the Huskies again this September, 20-19.
As a member of Husky Nation myself, I can say we are all so happy to see Evan graduate. Go Evan!
No, really, like go already.
EVAN VERSUS THE KIA
While driving to Seattle last May, Christine took a call from Berkeley. "Don't worry," Evan told her, "but I got hit by a car."
Next, some woman grabbed the phone and said, "We called 911, and the ambulance is on the way. We think he's going to be fine."
Her son, it turns out, was calling while laying in the intersection, covered in road rash. "I'm like, 'What! You think he's going to be fine?!'" Christine says.
Evan was driving to work out — on his moped — when an 81-year-old woman driving a Kia Soul (?!) blew through a red light; they found her three blocks away, clueless, thinking she had a flat tire.
"First responders called him the 'miracle kid,'" Todd says.
Evan, who looks a lot like Mr. Incredible, had no broken bones, no internal injuries and was lifting weights three days later.
The day after, Evan and his mom did go back to collect his wrecked moped (and yes, the city of Berkeley had given him a parking ticket). Evan opened the storage compartment and pulled out a prized hat. It belonged to his uncle Tommy, Christine's brother who passed away in 2015.
"This," Evan told his mom, "is what pulled me through."
EVAN'S PET ROCK
Believe it or not, you can be the leading tackler in the nation and still have people questioning your speed, your weight, even how skinny your legs are. Evan once told his parents he doesn't have a chip on his shoulder — he has a boulder. So one day, he and his dad went out behind their home and unearthed a fine chunk of Spokane bedrock.
"When he hears this stuff, even if it's not a slight, he turns it into a slight," Todd says. "He wants to be booed. He wants the energy. He feeds on it."
The boulder lives in Evan's Berkeley apartment; with a Sharpie, he and his dad jot down the disses right there on the rock as they roll in.
It seems to be working, as accolades for Evan pile up. He's been named a midseason All-American first teamer. He's a quarter-finalist for the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy, a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and he's on the watch list for both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Butkus Award. If he averages about 17 tackles a game over his last four games, he would set the all-time NCAA single-season tackles record.
Despite all the success, the Weavers do worry every time Evan takes the field.
"It's a brutal sport," says Todd. "Before every game, I start to get excited, then I get nervous. Whenever I see a kid get hurt, then give the thumbs up and people clap, I know it's a long road back."
Still, Todd and Christine take comfort in how much safety and recovery are a part of the sport today.
"They spend a lot of time teaching proper tackling and how to recover after the game," Todd says. "Heat, cold, stretching, yoga, sleep, eating the right foods — it takes a high level of awareness to avoid being injured."
Todd and Christine say it was important to talk about football with Evan.
"Every year, starting in about fifth grade, we had a serious talk. 'This is what you, Evan Weaver, want to do? We love watching you, but we're not making you do this.' You want to make sure you support them and not push them," says Todd. "It's a fine line."
Now, as Evan Weaver writes the next chapters of his legend, he's buckling down for the stretch run.
"It flies by," says Evan looking back on his college career. "It feels like only yesterday I was playing at Prep. So I'm letting it all soak in. I'm enjoying it."
Up here in Spokane, so are we. ♦
The Cougs play at Cal on Saturday, Nov. 9, at 4 pm on the Pac 12 Network.
Q&A: ADELE, IRON MAN AND PIRATE CULTURE
INLANDER: What’s the first memory you have of loving football, like really loving it?
WEAVER: Oh man, it had to be Pop Warner with the Buccaneers when I was like in first or second grade, that’s when I figured it out. Just running around tackling people — I was loving it, getting all that energy out.
What’s the hardest part of being a college athlete that fans don’t ever see?
It starts with the workouts — the 6 am, five days a week in the off-season, then those second workouts in a day, and having to fit in class, studying (Evan is majoring in American studies), then your social life. It’s a huge balancing act, and if they’re not balanced well, it can fall apart. And I guess I would add all the hate directed toward us on social media, when they don’t even know the kid. When they are talking about a freshman, who is 17 or 18, the guy’s still a child. I can deal with it because I’m older, but I feel for the young guys.
When you started at Cal, their defense was giving up big yards. Now the Bears D is one of the best in the nation. How have you put your stamp on the program?
It’s not that we never had the guys, it was kind of a mindset. Coach [Justin] Wilcox changed that. It was a kind of, “Why can’t we do this?” Then that changed to, “We will do this.” Everybody has bought into that.
You came back for your senior year, and you’ve become a leader, demanding commitment and excellence. Does that come naturally to you?
In my experience, leadership is not something you can force. We’re not in seventh grade anymore. Guys can read through the BS. Everybody wants to be a leader, but not everybody can. You have to be yourself.
Do you ever follow coach Wilcox around during games and remind him you played running back at G-Prep? Like, “Hey coach, I got 17 touchdowns senior year. Hey coach, put me in. Hey coach…”
I’ve definitely joked with them about it. But on the sidelines I’m usually going over plays with the coaching staff.
But really, he kind of owes you a carry…
No doubt, I’ll see what I can do.
Do you have any weird game-day superstitions or rituals?
Nothing really like that, but my pregame music is kind of psychotic: I listen to Adele, John Legend, Mumford & Sons. It’s kind of the opposite of what you’d think.
What movie did you watch over and over as a kid?
No question, A Christmas Story. I’d watch that even in the summer. “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
What’s your favorite Marvel Universe character?
Iron Man — he’s the OG. I love Robert Downey Jr.
Which football player did you pretend to be when you were a little kid out in the yard?
Reggie Bush, because he’s a beast, and Jake Locker. Then it turned into Ray Lewis.
I know your mom missed one of your games when she had back surgery, but other than that, they’ve been to every one of your college games. Knowing they’re up in the stands, what does that mean?
They’ve been my support since my first game ever. I always look for them before the game. I know generally where they’re sitting, then I stare up there a little bit. They give me a wave. It’s a cool thing we do. Something I’ve realized in college is that it’s not something everybody has, to have a family like that. It’s awesome.
Every day is different. There’s the vegan protestors, then the anti-vegan protestors. It’s just so quirky, so many free spirits.
Do your friends even know where Spokane is?
Sometimes they just look at you when you say you’re from Spokane, like “You mean Seattle?” No, Spokane. Sometimes I’m just like, “OK, fine, I’m from Seattle.” Not only is Spokane home, but growing up there, it’s a totally different vibe. It’s a big city with a small-town feel, where everybody roots for everybody who comes out of there. It’s a family. Coming out of Spokane, it drives me to show greatness.
You got offered a scholarship to play at WSU when you were a sophomore at G-Prep. Just think, you could have majored in pirate culture…
Yeah, I looked into it when I got down to Cal, but they don’t have any pirate classes…
The WSU game this week feels kind of like a full-circle moment for you. Plus, Mike Leach’s offense versus Justin Wilcox’s D. Give us a preview.
They’ve been battles these last two years. It’ll be two crazy-good coaching staffs doing what they do best. They both scheme each other so well, it’s like a boxing match. That’s honestly what it’s going to be again.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.