Ed Thompson: While you were playing at Cal, you established a great reputation as a hard-hitting linebacker and put up some incredible stats, especially during your senior year with 87 tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. But as a Pac-10 player, you also got to see USC's trio of linebackers--Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, and Rey Maualuga--who got plenty of press attention by comparison. What's your take on them based on what you've seen on film and on the field?
Zack Follett: Oh man, they are great linebackers. You can't take anything away from them. And they all play off of each other really well. Rey holds down the middle, Cushing brings the energy off the edge, and Clay, he's pretty underrated, he's a good linebacker. He definitely knows how to take on blockers and make tackles. I had no clue who he was until this season. He came out of nowhere, and as I watched him on film, I was impressed. But, it is kind of tough being at Cal, SC does get all the publicity, which is a little frustrating at times. You look at their physical attributes and they are beasts. But if you look at it on paper and what happens on the field, the linebackers at Cal, myself included, we kind of killed them in a stats competition, and we are playing against the exact same teams. Now, we switched to a 3-4 so my position could be a little more active and that helped juice the stats, but I don't think we get as much respect as deserve.
Zack Follett sacks Miami quarterback Jacory Harris in the 2008 Emerald Bowl.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Thompson: You led the Pac-10 in tackles for a loss with 23 this past season. What's the secret to your success for getting into the backfield so often?
Follett: A lot of credit goes to Coach Gregory and Coach Thompson, they are the ones who went out on a limb and trusted the linebackers to bring this 3-4 in. They moved me to outside linebacker last year, and in the 4-3 the Sam linebacker is primarily used to eat up blocks. I wasn't too happy with the switch, but they told me that it would pay off for me. And once the 3-4 came in, we had under-fronts where I would become the fourth rusher and could use my speed to get out around the tackles, allowing me to cause a lot of havoc in the backfield. That was my job, and I think that all of my years at Cal prepared me for that last year.
Thompson: You finished fourth in the conference in sacks last year. Is getting to the quarterback one of the most fun moments in football for you?
Follett: Yeah, definitely. Going into this season knowing how they were going to use me, my goal was double-digit sacks. After the first 10 games, I had five sacks. My job was outside contain, so no inside moves. The last three games I decided that I needed to pin my ears back and just have fun out there, go after them and show my athleticism. I felt like if I could just hang loose and have fun out there, those tackles really couldn't hang with me. So in the Stanford game I had 2 1/2 sacks, one sack against Washington, and then against Miami I had two sacks. Just going out there and running at full speed made it a lot easier.
Thompson: Let's talk about a stat that has to have the attention of NFL teams--five forced fumbles your senior year, and 13 during your career at Cal.
Follett: I had seven forced fumbles in my senior year of high school alone. That's something I pride myself on, when you see those 13 forced fumbles you know that I'm a hitter. I don't think many of them came from me getting my hand in there and stripping it, it all came from running full speed into that ball-carrier and just delivering a blow to make that ball pop out. My sophomore year I forced four fumbles, best in the Pac-10, and then I had five my senior year which was my career best.
Scout.com subscribers can click here to read the rest of this interview with Zack Follett in which he talks about an unusual (and painful) injury earlier in life, Cal teammate Alex Mack, his Senior Bowl experience, and some of the NFL teams that were showing interest in him.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.