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Former Gonzaga Prep star Evan Weaver returns to Northwest for Washington State-Cal game as one of nation’s top tacklers

Evan Weaver didn’t choose Washington State, but the Gonzaga Prep product has still found a way to contribute to the Cougars’ cause.

Cal’s junior inside linebacker was lurking in pass coverage last Saturday against No. 15 Washington when quarterback Jake Haener ripped a pass up the middle of the field late in the third quarter. Weaver instinctively rose up to pick the ball out of the air before landing on both feet, making one cut to the left sideline and returning the first interception of his career 37 yards for a go-ahead touchdown.

Weaver’s pick-six nailed down a 12-10 upset win for Cal at Memorial Stadium. UW’s loss in Berkeley catapulted WSU to the top of the Pac-12 North standings, and it could have more substantial implications on the divisional race later this season.

Weaver did his part for the Cougars. Now he’ll try to lend the Huskies a hand.

The former two-way G-Prep standout is returning to the Inland Northwest on Saturday for Cal’s 7:45 p.m. (ESPN) game at No. 10 Washington State. If the Golden Bears beat the Cougars for the second straight year, it will diminish Wazzu’s chances of winning the North.

“I’ve got a lot of family and friends who go (to WSU), so it’s going to be awesome,” Weaver told reporters in Berkeley on Monday afternoon. “I’ve got about 40 or 50 people going down, so it’ll be good to see all of them and play in front of them, but it’s just another game at the end of the day.”

Weaver was an all-state player for the Bullpups as a senior, winning Washington 4A Defensive Player of the Year honors from The Seattle Times, Associated Press and Tacoma News Tribune. An edge-rushing menace who doubled as a 1,000-yard rusher, Weaver led G-Prep to an unbeaten 2015 season and a blowout win over Skyline in the State 4A championship game.

He was recruited by five Pac-12 schools other than the one he chose, including both WSU and UW.

Asked Monday if the Cougars made a strong push for the G-Prep star, coach Mike Leach responded: “Yeah. Yeah, we did. He told us no.”

Later Monday afternoon, reporters in Berkeley relayed Leach’s quote to Weaver during an interview after practice. He tells a slightly different version of the story.

“I didn’t quite tell them no,” Weaver said. “They were definitely considered and I just felt Cal was the best place for me. … They’re all great coaches and they have a great team everywhere. I haven’t really been in contact with them since.”

Weaver’s seen a good share of Cougar games from the bleachers at Martin Stadium, though.

He befriended Ben Moos while both were standout prep football players in the region and often drove to Pullman to join the son of WSU’s former athletic director for home Cougar games. One year after the Golden Bears secured a signature from Weaver, Moos also decided to take his college football career to Berkeley.

Cal used Weaver as a defensive end his first season but dropped him back to inside linebacker as a sophomore, and he’s thriving in that role as a junior.

“Evan is playing at a high level right now. He loves football,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “The guy eats up everything about football. He loves the physical part of the game. Loves hitting people. He’s a throwback guy.”

Weaver’s 87 tackles this season – 52 solo and 35 assisted – place him 18th in the country. He’s had 4 1/2 tackles for loss to go with 1 1/2 sacks, five pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and one interception.

“I think his football IQ has just gotten better and better and he’s playing at a really high level,” Wilcox added. “He’s a good finisher, really good finisher, and he’s a physical guy. And he can run – he’s got good speed, he’s playing well.”

Saturday’s game is an important one for Weaver, but the beautiful thing about the Cal junior, according to his head coach, is that he treats every game with that approach.

“I think every game’s a big game for Evan Weaver, to be honest with you,” Wilcox said. “And I know coming back home there’s probably going to be a lot of friends and family, which is great. But Evan plays hard every week and he prepares hard every week, so I don’t see it being different in that regard.”

Three years after Weaver fell out of WSU’s hands, he’s still on the Cougars’ radar.

“Biggest thing is he’s a big, physical guy that runs to the ball,” Leach said. “That pretty much sums it up.”