We have the honor today of speaking with Zack Follett, former Cal linebacker. He wasn't just a linebacker, though. He was a force of nature. An inspiration to the rest of the team and the fans who felt the pain of his crushing hits. When the Pain Train suited up in the blue and gold on Saturdays, he represented the best of Cal athletics. Sadly, his professional career was cut short when he suffered an injury with the Detroit Lions.
Muscles taut and ready, eyes focused on the opponent, stomping his feet like a bull preparing to charge, Zack Follett was waiting for his opportunity to make a big hit. However, it was not 21-year old Zack Follett, University of California all-star linebacker. This was eight-year old Zack Follett, circa 1995. And he was not on the football field waiting for a sack; he was standing on third base, preparing to steal home in a Little League game. And like many present-day quarterbacks, the opposing catcher had no idea what's about to happen.
"The catcher is standing with the ball, waiting for Zack," Follett's mother Naomi remembers. "Zack took him out, the catcher flew five feet into the air and Zack was ejected from the game. He excelled in all sports, baseball, basketball, volleyball, but he played every one of them like a football player - basketball, baseball, volleyball. He is instinctually a football player. That's the sport he has a passion for."
But it takes more than belly fire to be the Pain Train. It took a lot of hard work. We're all thankful for the hard work and dedication that Follett showed in becoming one of the best Cal linebackers of all times. And we're thankful for him taking the time to answer the questions here. If you want to follow Follett's post-NFL career, you can check out his official website here, along with his Twitter account. Check out his answers after the jump and if you want a refresher course in Paintrainology, check out this YouTube vid:
1. What, exactly, did you say to ASU's Rudy Carpenter when you delivered your crushing sack your senior year?
That's going to have to stay between Rudy and I. I'll just say I had to repent afterwards.
2. What was your favorite hit that you delivered during your Cal career?
3. How did you come up with your wacky hair colors and styles throughout your Cal career?
Large amount of credit goes to Greg Van Hoesen. During long summer workouts we would collaborate our artistic minds with our silliness, which produced the hairstyles
4. What was your most rewarding game at Cal? What was your most fun game at Cal?
Tennessee game. After what happened to us at their house in 2006. I have never worked harder or been more determined to lay the smack down on a team.
5. What injury caused your NFL career to be cut short? When and how did you sustain that injury?
My neck is what did me in. It all started in 2007. It was never the same after that injury.
6. If you could be on the Cal football staff, what position would you want, and why would you be good at it?
Linebackers or Special Teams. Would I be good? I don't know if I would be able to put in the amount of work it takes as a position coach and not be able to go hit someone gametime.
7. The Tennessee game at Memorial in 2007 was epic. What was that like for you? When you delivered that hit on Ainge and Williams returned it for a TD are you in a zone or could you hear and feel how loud it was in Memorial.
8. The Oregon game in 2006 was similarly intense. What's it feel like when you're in Memorial and the place is just packed and rocking?
The Tennessee and Oregon were by far the best enviornement during my Cal days. After that hit and TD by Williams... I just remember chasing W to the endzone and once I got there I looked up to see a sea of orange and at that moment I had so much adrenaline running through me I was ready to take on their whole section. Amazing feeling
9. 2008 Big Game where you guys were all over the QB and dominated the 2d half. Tell us about that felt. And what about that little shoulder shiver you did in that game as a sack celebration? Spontaneous or premeditated?
Going into that stanfurd game and losing wasn't even an option. There was no way I was going to be leaving Cal without the possession of the Axe. As for that shimmy shake...that's just once of those moments where I am so juiced my body just does whatever it wants to release my joy.
10. How did it feel to get that huge sack in the Emerald Bowl that gave Cal the opportunity to get the go ahead score?
This to me was probably the most unbelievable play of my career. Click here to understand why
11. Who do you still keep in touch with among your teammates from Cal?
Try my best, but its hard since we all went our separate ways once done.
13. How was the academic support at Cal? Was it mandatory, or did you have to ask for help when you needed it?
Freshman year it was mandatory. After that you would ask for help if needed.
14. How does Cal's training and medical staff compare to the care you receive at the pro level?
It was not even comparable. Cal's staff, I believe, is one of the best in the nation for the support they give to keep your body at its top performance.
16. We've had a number of linebackers since you graduated who are fast and athletic, but no one has emerged as a truly dominant force off the edge. What's the secret to being an effective pass rusher?
I believe you just have to have an attitude and desire that you will not be denied to reach the qb.. also have an arsenal of moves that will help get you there.
17. What's something about the NFL which your typical football fan wouldn't know about? Is there some common misconception or myth which you found to be true or not true?
Business side of things are nasty. The coaches aren't the best that are in the NFL. It's a matter of who you know that gets you a job.
18. What was your "Welcome to the NFL" moment? The first time you recorded a tackle?
Running down on kickoff in my first NFL game against the Steelers and seeing the camera flashes going off. Dream come true
19. Tell us about how the loaning out of playbooks works in the NFL. Is it given to you soon after you're drafted? Do you get it when you show up to camp? Is each one numbered? Do you have to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement? What happens if you lose it? -
All I can say is don't lose it or you're slapped with a $10,000 fine
20. One former Cal defensive player who is currently still in the NFL said that he thought he knew how to watch film at Cal, but watching film in the NFL was totally different. Do you share that same sentiment? What is it about watching film in the NFL which makes it more challenging or different than watching film in college? Is it the teams, the players, or the schemes? Something else?
In all honesty I never was the biggest film guy. I just watched and studied what I needed to. After that, just go play.
21. Speaking of film, what is it like in the film room with NFL coaches? Were you surprised or blown away by their attention to detail, or perhaps lack thereof?
Like I said NFL position coaches weren't the bee's knee's. The best film breakdown coach I have ever seen was coach Bob Foster
22. What exactly were you looking at in the film room on a weekly basis at both the college and pro levels? The offense's schemes, formations, play tendencies, and player tendencies?
Formations were a big key. The biggest thing I paid attention to was how tough the O line and fullbacks were. The tough guys I knew it would be a dog fight. The softies, I would lick my chops
23. You seem to be a fairly religious person. What's your opinion of Tim Tebow and the way he prays after scoring touchdowns or while on the sidelines? Did you ever pray during a game? (Feel free to an not answer if this is too personal.)
First of all, I don't look at my faith as something personal. Matter of fact, my faith says to go out and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to all of creation. I just use my personal experiences of my faith so others can relate. I wasn't a big fan of Tebow when he was at Florida. But then I came to the realization we are on the same team #teamJesus. But to see what God has done through Him by accomplishing all the things the people in this world said he couldn't.. Puts a smile on face because Tim give the Glory to God. That's exactly where it belongs.
24. And, finally, the most important question: Who do you want to punch in the face?
Man 4 years ago, you ask me this question the list would have been too long. But now I really don't have beef with people. If I were to see someone doing something stupid I most likely pray that God touches them like He touched me and changed my heart. Ya'll saw that I was a lil crazy...so if He could change me from my old ways...He can save anyone.