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One-on-One: Alex Anzalone, Florida LB

Fri, Apr 14, 2017

Reese's Senior Bowl: Your dream of playing in the NFL is about to become a reality, is it starting to finally hit you yet?
Alex Anzalone: Yeah, it's starting to hit me a little bit. The anxiousness is starting to creep in as well just because I don't know where I'm going to be living within the next few weeks. So it's a lot of excitement, a lot of anxiousness and it's just an exciting time. Like you said, it's a childhood dream come true. 

RSB: You're a guy from Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, a small-town near Philadelphia. Now this process is taking you to a lot of different places all over the country. What has it been like to see all of these different places and meet with all of these different teams?
Anzalone: Yeah, it's been awesome. I've got to experience all different places around the country. Even just going through the process of the Senior Bowl and also the Combine - being in Mobile and then Indianapolis - and on top of team visits. So it's cool, especially to deal with a bunch of different people, a bunch of different coaches that you build relationships with that you really realize how small the football world is because a lot of these coaches I've met through recruiting, especially being from a small town, Wyomissing. I've met a lot of them through recruiting. It's truly a small world as far as the football world goes. It's an awesome experience that I'll never forget. 

RSB: Let's go back to Mobile and Indianapolis. Take me through the comparisons of going through the Reese's Senior Bowl week and then going to the Combine?
Anzalone: So the Senior Bowl was an awesome experience for me, especially because I feel like I performed well and helped myself out. But like you said, it's a little different feel because you have to perform on the field rather than run a 40-yard dash so it's a little different mentality and it helps that it's kind of right after the season so you're still in that mentality going into it. It's a good four days that you get to compete against the best guys and seniors in college football. There you kind of get a little introduction into how this whole process works meeting with scouts and coaches in the off-time between practices. And then going into the Combine, it's also a little different feel. For me, from doing the Senior Bowl I had a good feel for how the meetings were to go and how things were going to be ran so it was just a little different experience because you gotta get through the interviews, get through all the stuff to the last day to do the on-field stuff. It was a really good experience and I performed well at the Combine as well. Just going through the process, you know, it's an interesting deal. 

RSB: When you were added publicly to the Reese's Senior Bowl roster, some of the reaction that came through my phone was "Is Alex Anzalone going to be able to stay healthy for the week?" because of your track record and reputation of being "injury prone." So those medicals at the Combine are really important. Do you have any knowledge on your medical situation? Give us an update on your health?
Anzalone: Yeah, so at the Combine the medical check went really well. That's kind of what I was really excited for, is trying to clear the air as far as the shoulder issue. That went really well, I don't have to go back for the re-check so that kind of speaks for itself. It was just something that I knew that I was okay in but I can't go publicly out and speak "Oh, I'm fine" you know, it's something where you have to go through the process - especially dealing with each time and they're doctors. I don't know exactly what each team thought but the overall impression I got was that everything was good and there should be no future injury to anything as far as my shoulder. 

RSB: Well you had a perfectly healthy week here in Mobile so you answered all those critics who wondered whether you could make it through the week of practice here. Like you said, you performed well in practice here. But take me back to a week of college practice when you were going through these injuries. Because you're such an intense player and you were "injury-prone" were there ever any precautions on the practice field for you?
Anzalone: No, not necessarily. I mean, at times, I'd be non-contact but for me if I'm gonna play, I'm gonna be full-go and that's kind of how the training staff at Florida worked too. They handled me well through the injury stuff and we got through it and got to where I'm at today.

RSB: Because of the injury stuff, you were a redshirt-junior, so a fourth-year graduated player that made you eligible for the Reese's Senior Bowl. When you found out that you were gonna be able to participate, what went through your mind?
Anzalone: I just thought about it as an awesome opportunity for me to prove, one, that I'm healthy and, two, the type of player I am. Competing with the best seniors across the country, I think that I could help myself out greatly just because maybe I'm not as a hyped up guy as some other linebackers out there but I could definitely get my name out there and hopefully rise up the draft boards. 

RSB: You also played with a guy who's getting a lot of hype, Jarrad Davis. What's it been like to play alongside him? And where does your athletic ability come from?
Anzalone: I think athleticism just comes from having good genetics and then working hard throughout younger and continuing in developing my skills and speed and everything like that through training. Playing with Jarrad was awesome. He's obviously an awesome athlete and a great player but he's even a better person. He's one of my close friends and he was a great leader for our team. We definitely fed off each other when we played.

RSB: A lot of people forget that Jarrad Davis, with all due respect to him, got on the field initially because of the injuries to you. Going back to that time, what was the relationship like between you two when at first you were ahead of him but then you two finish your careers starring next to each other.
Anzalone: Yeah, the relationship didn't struggle at all. It was just something that you come to Florida, you're going to compete no matter who it is - with your best friend or if it's with someone you don't hang out with off-the-field - so our relationship didn't change at all. We obviously helped each other out and at the end of the day, we're on the same team, we have the same goals in mind. We're both not selfish guys and care about "Oh, we want to start" and everything like that. It was just how can we get the team better and how can we help the team out to win? It was kind of that deal. Obviously, it worked out. It was cool to finish playing starting both on the field together this past year. I think we both played really well and like I just said we definitely fed off each other when we played and we're always on the same page.

RSB: You guys had a lot of great players on that defense but I spoke to some teams that have spoken to you throughout this process and one reaction was when you talk to Alex Anzalone, he is the alpha-male. I think your defense had a lot of different leaders so where does your leadership stack up and how would you describe your leadership style?
Anzalone: I was voted team captain from my teammates this past year. I think that speaks volumes but I'm the type of guy who's maybe not necessarily always the rah-rah guy but I'm the guy who's accountable, who's gonna lead guys in the right direction and not afraid to speak up in front of the team. It's just kind of how I am, it's what my parents instilled in me. Just lead by example and then when it's your turn to speak or when you have the respect from your teammates, you can speak up and say something. We had a lot of great leaders like you said, Jarrad was one of the bigger leaders on our team as well. We had Marcus (Maye) in the backend, who led the younger guys that were younger than him. We just had a lot of good guys that did things the right way who were great examples for a young team. 

RSB: Well you looked a little bit like a rah-rah guy at the pro day. I was out there in Gainesville and you were cheering on your teammates. You completed the Triple Crown of the NFL Draft process - the Reese's Senior Bowl, the Combine and pro day. At the pro day, Mike Vrabel from the Houston Texans working extensively with the linebackers and defensive linemen and putting you through drills - just give us some feedback on what your pro day experience was like.
Anzalone: Pro day experience was awesome. For me, it was personally a lot of waiting around at-first just because I decided to opt to stand by all my combine scores and everything like that so I was just doing the linebacker drills. But like you said, I was cheering on my teammates for a while and then when it got time to do the linebacker drills, you know, the typical movement stuff and everything like that, and then Coach Vrabel came down and had us doing some punching drills where we showed our hands and explosiveness through our hips. It was a cool experience, especially like a guy like Coach Vrabel because he recruited me when I was being recruited at Ohio State so me and him have a good relationship. He knows my family and everything like that so it was cool to see that. Pro day was an awesome experience and it worked out well for a lot of guys.

RSB: Let's go back to your recruiting for a second. I was at Penn State when you were a recruit and you're a Pennsylvania guy and everybody on campus thought that you were going to be a Nittany Lion. Ultimately, it was your dream to be a Gator. Why is it a dream to be a Gator when you're in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania?
Anzalone: My dad went to medical school at Florida so I grew up a big Florida fan, even back when Rex Grossman was playing and all the older guys and then Tim Tebow obviously came around and everything like that. So I grew up a big Florida fan and that played a pretty decent impact on my decision but at the same time I wanted to fit at a school that was good for me. Florida happened to be a great fit and it worked out. 

RSB: And there's nothing that beats the SEC, right?
Anzalone: Yeah, it was a good experience playing in the SEC. Especially learning and maturing as a football player. I don't think I could've got that anywhere else. 

RSB: Who was the toughest player that you went against in your college career?
Anzalone: I would say Fournette, he gave us a hard time all day and also Dalvin Cook did pretty good damage on us. I didn't play this past year against Florida State but he put a pretty good damage on us. He's a really good player.  

RSB: What about going from the adjustment of a defensive head coach Will Muschamp, who is one of the most likable head coaches out there and going to an offensive coach in Jim McElwain, Coach Mac being another one of those types of coaches that's one of the more likable in the country as well.
Anzalone: Yeah, it was really sad to see Coach Muschamp go, especially the way he did. I think that a lot of those games the year he got fired were close and could've gone either way. It was really disappointing for all of us that were on the team, especially to see a guy like Coach Muschamp - like you said, everyone liked him. And Coach Mac came in and made the transition very easy. He didn't try to change much. He instilled a lot of confidence that was kind of sucked out of Florida just because of the losing season. He instilled a lot of confidence and built Florida back up to where it is now where we've been to two SEC Championship games in a row. 

RSB: Can you give us a quick preview on the 2017 Gators and who some of their top players to watch will be next year?
Anzalone: Obviously you have playmakers like Antonio Callaway, Brandon Powell, who's a guy that's not really hyped up a lot as a receiver, he's a very explosive player, good slot senior that will produce a lot. Also, Jordan Scarlett offensively - he's a running back that proved that he can handle the full load this past year. He's very physical, a downhill running back that can make people miss when he needs to. Then on defense, I think that you have a defense that's very young. You're led by two senior safeties, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington, that can get everyone lined up. It's just a young group that you don't have star-studded names likes we kind of did last year like the Jarrad Davis', the Caleb Brantley's, Teez Tabor's, Quincy Wilson's and Marcus Maye. There's a lot of guys that are gonna have to step up and prove themselves and do what they do best so we'll see what happens this next year and I'm excited to watch them. 

RSB: Eligibility-wise, you could've been a part of this 2017 team but you chose to forego that last year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft and come to Mobile as a graduated junior. At what point did you know that the time was right for you to leave?
Anzalone: I graduated in August. Going through the season, I think towards the end of the season I kind of got a feel for it. It was obviously a little bit on my mind. I tried to put it off towards the end of the season and talk to my parents and my family and close friends about it and even the coaches. We'll see where this draft goes but from all the information that I was hearing - I think that it was all good information and everything like that - but I also thought that I can prove myself a lot more through the pre-draft process and really improve my draft stock. Those are all things that went into it - so I graduated and it was time to move on for me personally. 

RSB: Now you go on the world tour of all these NFL visits. You don't have to tell what teams if you're not allowed to do that but how many visits do you think you've been on?
Anzalone: A decent, probably I think it was four. I don't even know if I'm allowed to say who, I don't even know so I'm not gonna say it. But it's pretty cool just meeting all these new staffs and organizations.

RSB: Before we let you go, two things we need to know: number one, what was your favorite part of the Reese's Senior Bowl?
Anzalone: I'd say playing with guys that I never played with before or even guys that I have played with before like Ben Boulware - I played with him in the Under Armour All-America Game out of high school and playing with him again was pretty cool. So just kind of that type of deal where I got to make relationships and everything like that. 

RSB: But back in that high school all-america game, Ben Boulware wasn't the Achilles' heel of the defense with the championship trophy tattooed on his Achilles, right?
Anzalone: No, no he wasn't. 

RSB: The last thing: the long hair look - is this going to continue in the NFL? And once you get there and become a rookie, there's going to be all kinds of things going on with the rookie class. Are you going to let them touch the hair?
Anzalone: Oh, I don't know, I don't know. I'll have to feel it out. I'll try to reason with the vets and try to figure out something, another way I can make up the rookie hazing or whatever you wanna call it these days. 

RSB: Alex, best of luck to you moving forward. We're glad you were able to take advantage of this opportunity. What's that feeling going to be like when you finally have your name called?
Anzalone: It'll be awesome. I can't imagine how it's gonna feel. It's pretty surreal right now that I'm even going through this process so when I get that phone call and hear my name called, I don't know. I'll probably have all different emotions going through me. 

RSB: Enjoy that moment when that time comes and enjoy the rest of the time that you have from now until then. Thanks for taking the time to join us.
Anzalone: Awesome, thank you Patrick.