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Saturday, September 20, 2014 | Last updated: 6:56am

Pair of former UA linebackers prepping for shot in the NFL



The way Derek Earls’ and Paul Vassallo’s football careers have played out are parallel in a way.

The former Arizona linebackers both came to Tucson as junior college transfers in 2010, and they have played alongside each other ever since. Vassallo came from Sierra College in California and Earls from North Dakota State College.

In 2010, Vassallo led the Wildcats with 102 tackles (eight for loss). In 2011, Earls led with 74 tackles (seven for loss).

“We meshed really quickly because we came in at the same time,” Vassallo said. “If I messed up he’d be there to back me up, and vice versa. It was nice having that relationship with another linebacker.”

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By GKB / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat UofA loss to Stanford Saturday, September 17, 2011 at Arizona Stadium
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By GKB / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat UofA loss to Stanford Saturday, September 17, 2011 at Arizona Stadium

Their paths were joined from the very beginning of their careers at the UA, as they planned to live together before they even stepped foot on campus for the first time.

“We came in and we already decided that we were living with each other before we met,” Earls said. “We pretty much became brothers. We always watched film with each other. We both pretty much have the same strengths and weaknesses and we’re always trying to make each other better.”

The NFL Draft starts on Thursday, and while neither linebacker is expected to be drafted in the first few rounds, the duo is still holding out hope that even if their names are not called on one of the draft’s three days, a team will pick them up as an undrafted free agent.

Vassallo receiving interest from multiple teams

Not many NFL Draft prognosticators have mentioned Vassallo in their pre-draft rankings, but that doesn’t mean NFL teams haven’t taken notice of the 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker.

“I’ve been hearing late rounds to free agent since the Pro Day, but I’m just keeping my expectations open,” Vassallo said. “I haven’t had any workouts, but my agent has spoken with like five or six teams, and I’m hearing back positive things.”

Vassallo listed the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals as a few teams that have expressed interest.

Growing up in Reno, Nev., Vassallo was a San Francisco 49ers fan his entire life, and said it would be a “dream come true” to be drafted to the NFC West champion.

“Growing up I was a Niners fan. It was the closest team to home,” Vassallo said. “It would be awesome. My family and friends would be close, and it’d be a great situation.”

Vassallo is confident enough in his abilities to believe he will have the chance to make an NFL roster, and he said that his intellect is his greatest attribute.

“I’m an instinctive, intelligent player that’s willing to embrace his role,” Vassallo said. “I’m going to bring a lot to the table and try to make any team more successful than they already are.”

Position: Linebacker
Hometown: Reno, Nev.
H/W: 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

Stats: (2010) 102 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass deflections; (2011) 70 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass deflections

Achievements: Honorable mention All-Pac-10 (2010), Pac-10 Player of the Week (2010), Casino Del Sol All-Star game participant (2012), first UA player to record 100 tackles since 2007, had 14 tackles against Washington in 2010

Pro Day numbers: 4.86 40-yard dash, 16 bench press reps of 225 pounds, 32 inch vertical

He said it: “I’m an instinctive, intelligent player that’s willing to embrace his role.”
What they’re saying: Ranked 47th best inside linebacker by NFLdraftscout.com

Earls hoping to get a call from his hometown team

Derek Earls grew up in Waconia, Minn., as part of a family of passionate Minnesota Vikings fans. While the 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker has tempered his expectations for the draft, he is still holding out hope that his childhood favorite will be his next destination.

“I know I’ll be a free agent, I’m just hoping a team gives me a chance so I can show them what I can do,” Earls said. “Vikings were the home team. My agent’s actually talked to the Vikings so we’ll see if there’s some interest … It would be nice, I grew up watching them, to be able to play in front of your family and friends and stuff like that, it would be a neat thing to do.”

In the meantime, Earls, who graduated in December, has been working out in Tucson with Vassallo and hanging out with friends before he leaves in pursuit of his NFL dream. He’s just hoping that a team notices his work ethic, and how he can contribute to a team at the linebacker position.

“I’m a good player, I can move quick,” Earls said. “I move laterally pretty good, I need to work on coming downhill better. I’m a hard worker always trying to get better at my game. I always try to be in the film room learning, watching other people play, studying and becoming a better player.”

Position: Linebacker
Hometown: Waconia, Minn.
H/W: 6-foot-3, 247 pounds

Stats: (2010) 44 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 4 pass deflections; (2011) 74 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections

Achievements: UA’s leading tackler in 2011, first-team NJCAA All-America in 2009, career-high 10 tackles against Stanford in 2010

Pro Day numbers: 4.72 40-yard dash, 32 inch vertical

He said it: “I’m a hard worker always trying to get better at my game.”

What they’re saying: Ranked 36th best inside linebacker by NFLdraftscout.com

Check back for more spotlights on the UA’s draft hopefuls throughout the week.


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