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Cal Football

Kunaszyk and Weaver: Cal's Odd Couple of Stellar Linebackers

November 8, 2018
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Cal’s pair of senior Jordan Kunaszyk and junior Evan Weaver constitute as dynamic an inside linebacker tandem as any that exists in college football.

In the tackles per game category they are second (Kunaszyk, 11.4 ) and third (Weaver, 10.7) in the Pac-12. Their combined average of 14.2 solo tackles per game leads the nation.

They work together like a well-oiled machine, moving in synch with one another to disrupt opposing offenses and are a prime reason the Cal defense, two years ago a laughing stock in the Pac-12 is now one the better ones in the conference, giving up 323.2 yards per game, third best in the league.

“I think they push each other,” defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter said. “Both of them take a lot of pride in how hard they work, how much they study tape and know an offense and how productive they are. There’s probably an internal competition between the two of them, which is a healthy thing.”

But other than excelling at a sport they are passionate about, the two have little in common.

“Evan is a little bit of a hard head. Jordan is more cerebral,” DeRuyter said. “Evan will run through a brick wall to try to find a guy. JK is usually a little bit smarter. He’ll run around it and then get the guy down, To have both of them on the team, you get a little sweet with sour.”

They certainly are aware of how different they are from one another.  

“He’s more finesse,” Weaver said of Kunaszyk. “I am more like, ‘Run into you, make you feel me.’ Be as physical as possible.  Ever since I started playing football I want to hit somebody as hard as I can.

“Jordan’s the mellow one. Kind of calm out there. Wiggling his way through guys at the line of scrimmage to go make a play. His style of play works for him.”

Kunaszyk agrees, and thinks it makes for a good match. “I think it meshes great. Everybody needs somebody like that,” he said. “A relationship needs somebody who’s calm and collected and somebody who’s more ferocious out there. I think we complement each other very well. And it’s shown on the field for sure.”

Their position coach Pete Sirmon agrees.  “They have different personalities that’s for sure,” said  Sirmon. “But how we coach ‘em is the same. They both play really hard and have been really productive. In the meeting rooms they are really into football. Football matters to them. They share  a lot of similarities. Their personalities are different but the traits that make them good are the same.

“Weaver is a little more ‘Let you know that he’s around.’ Jordan is probably a guy who doesn’t have a lot things to say unless it’s going to be meaningful.  Sometimes Weav just talks because he’s probably bored.”

Having been around the system and each other for some time now, the two know what the other will do in almost any given situation. “We know each other, no matter what,” Weaver said. “The great thing when Coach Sirmon first got here he made us learn the other linebacker positions just so we’ll know where the guy next to us is supposed to be on every play. And that has helped us play really fast. ...I love the dude. Being able to play next to him is great.”

Kunaszyk feels much the samel:”I think that just comes from knowing the defense and trusting him,” Kunaszyk said. “Knowing that he is going to do his assignment, knowing the way I know the defense and the way he knows the defense. It allows us to know where we should be, and trust in each other knowing we’re going to be there.”

Sirmon says he has seen their camaraderie develop. “The more you play, the more reps you get with somebody you start to have a feel for them,” he said. “I  think those guys could play independently with anybody. They understand the game. They understand what we’re asking them to do. RIght now they play off each other well because they’re both so productive.”

An interesting aspect of their relationship is the way each remembers his first impressions of the other.

Kunaszyk on Weaver. “The first time I saw him he was just running down the field, he was playing D-Line and he was 50 yards down field and it was like here he was chasing the ball and that’s something that’s very important. That was like our first little meeting and it was respect man, ‘Good job’. That was in Fall Camp 2016, my first year here.”

Weaver on Kunaszyk: “The first time I ever talked to him was Wazzu (Washington State). We were riding on the bus after a loss my freshman year (2016) and we were just talking. It was his first year in the program and we were just talking for about an hour about what we can do to change this program around and change this defense. That’s where the basis of our relationship started.”

Sirmon in his first year with the pair, has been impressed. “Everybody kind of grows on me,” he said. “It takes me a long time to form an opinion, What’s been consistent is their toughness, their mental approach to the game. It’s been how hard they’ve worked at practice.”

The two took different routes to Cal. Weaver, the native of Spokane, was a target of several  Division I schools, including both Washington and Washington State. He was a defensive end and defensive lineman.

“And I played some running back, back in the day,” he said. “Running the ball scoring some touchdowns. That came in handy against Washington, (on his interception return for a touchdown).

He played defensive end his first year in Berkeley, moving to outside linebacker and then inside. He is happy there now. “I love everything about it, defending the run, defending the pass. I love being able to make plays in the secondary.”

Kunaszyk is from the Sacramento area. He was always a linebacker, but did not play varsity until his junior year in high school. Under the Division I recruiting radar, he received interest only from Division II or NAIA schools. Determined to play D-1, he attended American River JC upon graduation from Roseville HS. His first year became a redshirt season because of an injury, but he blossomed in 2015, He led all California JC defenders with 118 tackles.

He put in maximum effort, both on the field and in the film room. “I know I’m not the fastest. I know I’m not the biggest. I know I’m not the strongest,” he has said. “So, how can I have an edge on my opponent? I know I’m willing to do things that my opponents aren’t.

“I’ve never just done the bare minimum. For me to get here, I’ve always had to do more.”

And he received an offer from Cal, which he jumped at.

He was an immediate contributor, playing in all 12 games off the bench in 2016. He took over as the starter for the last five games in 2017 and did well enough to get himself named third team All Pac-12 this preseason.

In his career he has recorded 228 tackles, tops among active players. And he so impressed his teammates he was voted a season captain along with running back Patrick Laird.

Weaver’s shining moment was the Oct. 27 game against Washington when he recorded 11 tackles and had that 37-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“He didn’t need anybody to block for him,” Kunaszyk said at the time. “He was a man on a mission.”

Their respective physical appearances are as different as their playing styles. But where Kunaszyk with his neatly trimmed beard and steely stare looks the part of the thinking man’s player, Weaver’s rubicon cheeks and beaming smile do not resemble a football terror.

“I know that,” Weaver said when it was mentioned. “And there is a difference on the field and off. I’m a normal dude off the field. Then I just turn it on, go kill somebody, get off the field and go have a nice dinner.”

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Kunaszyk and Weaver: Cal's Odd Couple of Stellar Linebackers

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