"Pain Train" Staying on Track Toward NFL Draft

Photo: Former Cal linebacker Zack Follett is focusing hard on improving his time in the 40-yard dash in preparation for next week's NFL Combine.
Salgu Wissmath/File
Former Cal linebacker Zack Follett is focusing hard on improving his time in the 40-yard dash in preparation for next week's NFL Combine.

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Football: Zack Follett

Former Cal linebacker Zack Follett discusses various topics in leading up to Wednesday's NFL Combine.

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When Zack Follett bought his first NFL game ticket in the ninth grade, he was merely a fan.

When the four-star prep linebacker signed his LOI to Cal, there were still only whispers of his potential to play at the next, next level.

But when the Bears elected to shift their defense to a 3-4 look following their 2007 Armed Forces Bowl win, much of that changed -- 10.5 sacks, 23 tackles-for-loss and five forced fumbles later, Follett's status now reads: Potential NFL draft pick.

Starting Wednesday, his status will soon be NFL Combine participant, one that's been dubbed as a potential mid-third to an early fourth-round selection.

"Excitement," Follett says to describe his emotions. "Training something for so long, one specific thing pretty much -- that 40-time -- constantly twice a day almost every day except Sunday, it's just real excitement. I'm eager to go out and do it.

"I'm not really nervous. I know the whole process is a big grind from what I hear, but it's something that I've always wanted to do watching on TV, so I'm pretty excited."

If Follett runs as well as he has this week, he'll have NFL scouts just as thrilled. The linebacker says his goal is to run in the 4.5's, and that his fastest time this week was a 4.53. Punching in a 35-inch vertical -- which is his personal best -- as well as 20-something reps in the bench press are also on his to-do list, according to Follett.

His training regimen starts at 8 a.m. each morning, when he wakes up for breakfast at a restaurant nearby Elite Athletics Training Center in Westlake, Calif. He works out for about an hour and a half before taking a break.

Then comes lunch, which is also mapped out by a nutritionist, followed by another hour-and-a-half training session. At 3:30 p.m., he picks up dinner and heads home, where a protein shake and a lengthy session of Halo awaits.

"We train as a group, all the Cal guys are together training," says Follett. "Me and Worrell (Williams) are workout partners. We're really getting at it. It's good to have someone you're comfortable with that you know, and they know you and you can push each other because you've been doing it for the past four years ... It's made the process a lot easier."

By the process, Follett may have also meant winning arguments against players from all across the country.

Ever the talker, the linebacker says that having a strong Cal contingent with him helps him to win most debates, though he's not at all interested in seemingly the most heated one, LeBron versus Kobe.

Asked about a topic he recently engaged in, Follett recalled telling Pittsburgh tailback LeSean McCoy that the Bears' Jahvid Best was simply better than the potential first-round pick.

"No doubt, I let him know," Follett admitted. "I told (McCoy) I respected his game, but Jahvid is an unbelievable back ... Even going to the Senior Bowl, if Jahvid were at that Senior Bowl, he would've been the best player there. (McCoy and I) talked about the Pac-10 running backs."

And McCoy's response?

"Well, he asks like, 'Jahvid who?' That's his response to it, but he knows who (Best) is," Follett says. "(McCoy)'s a real confident guy. I think I'll just leave it at that."

It's not often that the linebacker "leaves it at that" with a running back on the field.

But that's what seems to define Follett, who was told by a sports psychologist working for the Indianapolis Colts that he has a "soft side" to his Pain Train psyche.

True, Follett counts his fish tanks, bonsai trees and woodcutting among his hobbies, and true, Follett removes the insane linebacker costume right as he trots off the gridiron.

But what's not true, he says, is the unavoidable association between Berkeley and marijuana -- "Come on, man, you lived in Berkeley -- tell the truth," a scout reportedly said to Follett in an interview after he had denied ever smoking pot.

"It's a grind," Follett says of the interview process. "They try to get to know you as a person."

If there's a Berkeley stereotype that Follett did fulfill, though, it may have been with his intelligence. According to Follett, his position coach at the Senior Bowl told Follett that he was the smartest linebacker the coach had met.

Players from prestigious programs were blessed athletically, gifted with both ridiculous size and speed, but Follett said that he realized in practices as well as in film sessions that the Cal coaching staff had tutored him just as well as anyone.

"When it comes to the little things about how to beat players and do the little things, I think Cal is way more advanced," says Follett. "Our coaches truly get us ready, and that was something that I didn't realize until I left Cal. At the time being, you don't know anything else, so you do what they say, and you don't know how anyone else does it.

"But you go out there and you kind of compare yourself to these other players. Even I noticed in the film room (at the Senior Bowl). When I'm watching film, I'm not one to talk much, but coach was going over and breaking down film, and half these guys didn't know what the heck he was talking about -- and it was obvious to me."

And further, Follett is smart enough to know one more thing: There will be no such thing as a Zack Follett draft party.

"I'm definitely not gonna have no party," he says. "I don't want to be partying and not even get drafted. That'd be jinxing myself."


Contact Andrew Kim at [email protected]

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