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NFL draft: Q&A with UCLA LB Jordan Zumwalt

Jordan Zumwalt seemed destined to play football at Arizona State, considering his father was a scrappy, undersized pass rusher there and his mom also attended the school. Jordan, his parents and his brother and two sisters often would load up the family RV and roll down the highway from their Southern California home to Tempe to watch the Sun Devils play ever year.

But Zumwalt, a star player at Huntington Beach’s Edison High School, switched gears — he was going to play for the local team instead, Pac-12 rival UCLA. Although it took him a little while to get going, the fiery linebacker finished his career strong (with a few bumps along the way) and now has positioned himself as an intriguing middle-round linebacker and special-teams prospect.

Although he’s taking a huge class load this summer in order to earn his degree, the highly entertaining and loose-lipped Zumwalt was able to take a few minutes to chat with Shutdown Corner about watching his father play, getting recruited by Pete Carroll, getting hit by a car (on a scooter!), knocking out Logan Thomas and West Coast women.

SDC: Have you watched your dad’s old games with him?

JZ: I actually watched a video of him playing in high school, believe it or not. There’s one floating around on VHS. I watched him play in college a little bit, too. One game in college he forced the game-winning fumble, and I guess the offense took the ball and scored that next possession. That was pretty cool to watch.

SDC: Ever watched the 1987 Rose Bowl with your father?

JZ: I don’t think he has that tape. I would love to watch that one. These were all in the archives. They’re all stacked up in the garage.

SDC: It's on YouTube.

JZ: Really? I have to look for that one.

SDC: Your dad was basically a 215-, 220-pound rush end when he played, right? It wasn’t that long ago.

JZ: Yeah! He was 220, maybe 225. He was a skinny guy, but he was strong as [expletive], everyone said.

SDC: I heard your family used to pile in an RV and go to Arizona State games growing up. Tell me about those.

JZ: Those were awesome. I grew up an ASU fan. I liked the school, I liked their campus. Both my parents went there, so I couldn’t help but grow up liking them. Our family friends, they all went to ASU, their kids were my friends. So we’d head there every year, and I got to meet a lot of the old graduates, all the old players. They all stayed close friends.

But it’s funny, junior year they offered me. I went there and took an unofficial visit. After being out there — mind you, it was summertime — I thought, I don’t know if I am supposed to be out here.

SDC: 110 in the shade, you mean?

JZ: Yeah, it was insanely hot. It was the desert. I was like, ‘Guys, I am not from the desert. I am a beach kid. I can’t be out here.’

SDC: You had to feel a lot of pressure to go there, though.

JZ: No question. It was tough.

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Pete Carroll after his last win as USC coach. (Getty Images)

SDC: I heard Pete Carroll recruited you pretty hard to USC in high school.

JZ: Yes, very true. He and his assistants were always on my couch. Ken Norton Jr. — awesome guy. I really considered playing for them. That’s the only reason I considered [USC] was the coaches alone. They were some highly respected coaches, so I had to. But once they left, I said, ‘Screw SC! I am outta here.’

SDC: Do you almost feel like the whole NFL courting process is like going through recruiting all over again in a way?

JZ: Yeah, for sure, only in reverse. I am so busy with everything. I am taking 24 units right now. I am trying to graduate, so I am taking twice the load that everyone else is. One of my classes is a seminar, so I already have missed two days [of class] … I visited Pittsburgh and New England, and if you miss three you’re booted out of the class and I can’t graduate. There’s no point in me taking all these credits and classes if I am not going to get that degree.

SDC: So I heard you had to delay a visit with the Seahawks because of it.

JZ: Yeah, I just told them, ‘Hey, I am sorry.’ They just wanted to check up on my shoulder. I had a meeting already [scheduled] with the Colts, to check up on my shoulder also.

SDC: Going back to that first ASU game as a member of the Bruins … how hard was that on dad? Where was his allegiance?

JZ: The first one was funny. He said, ‘All right, Jordan. I want you to have a 100 million tackles and be MVP, but, you know, Go Devils!’ [laughs] After that, everyone just kind of jumped on the UCLA bandwagon, and he ended up having his midlife crisis and then built a UCLA motorhome. He’s diehard UCLA now.

SDC: That’s great. Is he still a police officer?

JZ: Yes, sir. Active police officer in Huntington Beach, where we grew up.

SDC: Could you ever have considered following in his footsteps, career-wise?

JZ: Um, yeah. I feel like I could be a pretty good cop. Personally, I’d like to try to make a ton of money before that. [laughs]

SDC: Tell me about getting hit by a car in 2012.

JZ: I was obliterated by a car.

SDC: What happened?

JZ: I was cruising on my scooter …

SDC: Wait — you drive a scooter?

JZ: Yeah, we’ve got a little Vespa gang going around. I started a trend, and my buddies and I all bought a bunch of Vespas. They’re really great. We cruise around on campus, and we don’t have to walk anywhere. UCLA is full of hills.

SDC: Ok, I think I get it.

JZ: You don’t have to walk around after practice. It’s great. So anyway, junior year it’s the fourth game of the season, and we had just lost to Oregon State. I go up to the football offices, meet with the coaches, we met for about an hour. I get on my scooter, and I am cruising home. It was a late night the night before, so I wanted to take a nap.

I am going to turn, and the lights are green. There’s a woman facing the opposite direction as me in the turn lane, waiting for me to clear. But there’s a woman behind her who doesn’t understand why the woman in front of her isn’t going, because I am in this little scooter and [the woman behind] probably can’t see me.

So as I am going through the intersection, she decides — I didn’t see her — so she goes. I didn’t have enough time to [react], so she goes, whack! Hits me going about 30-40 mph. I had 150 stiches in my forehead. The cut was about an inch and a half. It went straight to my head, man; my skull was showing. Knocked me silly.

I was just sitting on the ground with my legs out and just bleeding all over my body. I thought, ‘God, I am [messed] up.’

SDC: Did you think at that point your football career might be over or anything?

JZ: Yeah, it was going through my head. I remember I was pretty concussed. It was a significant, traumatic event. I apparently told the paramedics, ‘This woman just ruined my season or my career. If you leave her anywhere around me, I am going to break her teeth.’ I was pissed, but I don’t think I knew what I was saying.

But I didn’t let it ruin my season. I was back a week later. I probably should have taken more time off. My thinking at that point was … whatever. I was not going to let that ruin my season.

SDC: But man, 150 stiches … wow.

JZ: Yeah, I have a permanent scar on my face now. It bleeds every single time I make contact now. I have tried it all, man. Skullcaps, Band-Aids, Neosporin to make it slippery, Vaseline, gauze, extra tape around my forehead — the skin rips because it’s so thin. It didn’t get time to heal right. The first contact of every [expletive] game, it rips right open.

SDC: Well, on the bright side, you’re now guaranteed to get on TV every time you make a tackle now. Producers love blood.

JZ: Yep, every time I make a tackle I’ll be that bleeding guy! People think I am crazy. I am not crazy, there’s just nothing I can do.

SDC: Well, you finished strong in your career. Right after that accident, it seemed like you started playing your best football. Was there ever a worry before it that you might not be in a position to get that shot at the NFL?

JZ: I know what you mean. I have always wanted to make a splash. The NFL is what I always wanted to achieve. I do believe my junior year I was on the verge. I was big time, but I wasn’t. I came into my senior year, and I was like, well, this is it, man. There are no do-overs. You just have to go out and perform.

I put in a lot of extra time. A lot more than I thought I had to put in. A lot more than before, that’s for sure. I thought I was doing it right before, but I wasn’t getting what I needed out of it.

So I did it, man. I [expletive] did it. Last half of the [2013] season, I came out and just tore it up. For some reason, I had the games of my life when I had to.

SDC: That’s true. Three of your biggest games in your career were your bowl games.

JZ: Yes, sir, thank you. I am very appreciative of that.

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UCLA football coach Jim Mora (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

SDC: I asked Xavier Su’a-Filo this at the combine, but I am curious to get your take, especially as a defensive player: What was the biggest change when Jim Mora took over before the 2012 season? Defensive coach, NFL experience, the whole thing.

JZ: The biggest change was that it was a night and day difference [from former head coach Rick Neuheisel]. He stood up there and it was … this is Jim Mora. He came in and had a two-page paper he read off of. He explained to all of us, ‘Look, I am not here to make friends. I am not here to make you these great kids. I am not here to make sure everybody gets straight A’s. I am here to win football games, and that’s what we’re going to do.’

I mean, we found out later, he was really high on making sure everyone stays in school and everything. But right off the bat, he wanted to make sure everybody know that we were going to win. He walked out of the room and it was quiet. [The players] all just looked at each other like, ‘all right, here we go! We got our coach!’

It was weird. Everybody just bought in. We were just waiting for that. The team was just sitting there and waiting for someone to come in and take over.

SDC: You’re a fireball on the field. You clearly don’t hold back in interviews. Where does that come from?

JZ: I would say both my parents. So my mom is a very outgoing person. Really outgoing. She’ll talk to anybody and everybody about anything. She has the gift of gab. She’s a chameleon and can blend into any environment. My dad is more like, ‘This is who I am. I am going to be me. You can’t tell me who to be.’

I am kind of a mix of the two where sometimes I can’t shut up. I feel like what I have to say is the most important thing to say! [laughs] Other times I am more like her.

SDC: You’ve played all three linebacker spots. You’ve played special teams. You’ve played some fullback. That versatility has to be something that has come up with NFL teams you’re talking to.

JZ: Well, no one is thinking about me playing fullback or whatever, but they know me as ‘that guy.’ I mean, if everyone said, ‘You suck at linebacker,’ I suppose I could try my hand at fullback or tight end.

But I would love to do a little of everything if a team wanted that. My versatility is also big on being able to play any ’backer spot. I am back up any linebacker on the field, and I am damned proud of that fact.

SDC: Are people still asking you about the hit on Logan Thomas?

JZ: Oh my gosh, especially right after the game. That was … for about a month, I was telling that story. I must have told it about a thousand times.

SDC: And he’s bigger than you.

JZ: He’s much bigger than me. He has about 20 pounds on me.

SDC: Some people think you’re a dirty player. ESPN wrote about it. How much have you heard people talk about that?

JZ: Yeah, there’s a video on Youtube, if you look it up … Jordan Zumwalt, dirty player or something like that. [The video has been taken down apparently.]

If you look at it, it is so stupid. He throws a punch? I was making a tackle, not throwing a punch. [laughs] I don’t think I am a dirty player at all. I like to play the game the way the game is meant to be played. It’s not a game where you go out and [play] paddy cake. You know what I mean?

It’s a violent game. They call us modern-day gladiators. I mean, of course we’re not going out there and trying to kill each other. But in the modern era, it’s as close as you’re going to get to that.

Yeah, I like to play the game, as I said, the way it’s meant to be played. And sometimes with the new rules, some things are illegal and maybe you’re not allowed to celebrate. But [stuff] happens, man. I am not trying to hurt anyone. I am not trying to go helmet to helmet. It just happens.

SDC: Ok, let’s go through some fun ones? Who is the more ridiculous athlete — Anthony Barr or Myles Jack?

JZ: Oh, man. That it difficult. Ok, Ok, Ok. Most ridiculous athlete … [long pause].

I would say Anthony Barr is a freak. Myles is a ridiculous athlete. Barr is a freak because he’s 260 pounds, 6-5, and what did he run a 4.4 40? He’s a freak, and strong as an ox, man. I have seen him just belittle linemen, man. He played some 4i [technique], as basically a tackle for us against Oregon. I mean … he played tackle against Oregon. He’s an outside backer/defensive end, and he’s like … the coaches just decide, let’s put him at tackle and let him do his thing. And he had a hell of a game.

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Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt (Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports)

JZ: But Myles is just ridiculous. I mean, you saw the Arizona game, right?

SDC: Oh yeah.

JZ: That just made no sense. They just gave him the rock and let him run.

SDC: Give me some dirt on Brett Hundley. He seems too good to be true.

JZ: [laughs] Oh, he’s a square. A total square. [laughs] I am kidding. Brett is my guy. We call him Done-ley. D-O-N-E. A joke we have is that if someone says something ridiculous, they’re just ‘done.’ But I love Brett. I could kick it with him all day, every day. He’s my quarterback, you know what I mean? I love the guy.

SDC: Who is the best offensive player you faced in your career?

JZ: I think [USC WR] Marqise Lee is one of the best college players I have ever seen. I mean, his sophomore year, he had the ability to go pro. I watched him embarrass nine guys on our defense on one play. It was ridiculous. He made six guys miss. I don’t know, it was just absurd. If he gets a good-ass quarterback, I think he has the ability to take over a game.

SDC: Worst Pac-12 city to visit?

JZ: The worst Pac-12 city to visit? Oh, man. [laughs] Washington State, wherever that city is. Screw that place. [laughs]

SDC: Which non-UCLA Pac-12 team has the best-looking co-eds?

JZ: I can’t say UCLA?

SDC: Too easy to pick your own school.

JZ: Oh, man … because we have some good-looking women here. Probably Arizona or Arizona State. Their acceptance GPA is like a 2.7. [laughs] I know some pretty girls who are not the most intelligent.

SDC: I am not commenting on that. Best movie you have seen recently?

JZ: ‘Captain America’ was awesome. He was really badass in that one. ‘Wolf Of Wall Street’ was pretty epic, too.

SDC: Favorite class you took at UCLA?

JZ: I might say [this] Scandinavian class, because that was one of the easiest of all time. But my favorite was maybe Film & TV.

SDC: Where will you be on draft weekend?

JZ: I am going to do a huge gathering down in Huntington Beach. I am going to invite anyone and everyone that wants to come. I saw [UCLA linebacker] Eric Kendricks, I went and saw his brother get drafted [Mychal Kendricks, by the Philadelphia Eagles], being in that room and experiencing that with him was a really, really cool thing. It was weird — everybody in that room felt the same way he did. I would invite anyone who wants to feel that same emotional feeling to come.

SDC: Cool, I’ll be there.

JZ: You’re invited. Awesome. I’d like to open it up to anyone.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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