Zac Diles figured it would be his decision on where he would line up when he arrived to play football at Fresno City College in 2003.
On the opening day of fall practice, Diles jogged to the running back line. That’s the position he wanted to play.
Not so fast, said the Rams’ real decision-maker.
Coach Tony Caviglia walked over and told the former Tulare High star to “go join the linebackers. We need more bodies there.”
It led to a two-year starring run at Fresno City, a scholarship to Kansas State, an NFL career and later this summer a place on the Rams’ football Wall of Fame.
Diles headlines a class that also includes defensive back LaVance Ray (2000-01), quarterback Kyle Biggs (2000), linebacker Marquell Stinson (2001-02), tight end Derek Hubbard (1993-94) and cornerstone Frances Lippman (admissions and records manager) during an Aug. 28 ceremony at Pardini’s.
The best players are in it for the team and not for themselves. That’s Zac in a nutshell.
Fresno City College football coach Tony Caviglia on Zac Diles
“The best players I’ve had at Fresno City are the ones that have faith in the system and they make other people around them better,” Caviglia said. “Everybody wants to go to a four-year college. When they commit instead to JUCO, for whatever the reason, they submit to the program and do what they’re asked and be a good teammate, help people around them and make them better … the best players are in it for the team and not for themselves.
“That’s Zac in a nutshell.”
Diles said he had not considered community college ball as his career was winding down at Tulare. He was like a lot of those other guys, dreaming of playing at an NCAA Division I program right out of high school. But he now calls it a “blessing” and was glad Caviglia acted in his and other players’ best interests.
“He’s the reason why I played linebacker,” Diles said. “He knew what was up. He pointed me straight to the linebacker line. I had no aspirations playing linebacker until Coach C made that choice for me.”
It worked out well.
From 2003 to 2004, Diles started 22 games. As a sophomore, he led the team to a Valley Conference title and a berth in the 2004 Northern California championship. The Rams went a combined 17-5.
“Those are the funnest moments,” Diles said. “I remember Coach C putting us in the weight room and told us this will be the funnest time playing football. At the time we were 18-year-olds and we were like, ‘Whatever.’ Thinking back after my career, it was a collective group of guys trying to get somewhere. The level of hunger and competitiveness and camaraderie is special.”
Division I finally came calling, then the NFL.
At Kansas State, Diles played 24 games and was a two-time All-Big 12 honoree. He started 13 games as a senior in 2006, when he recorded 149 tackles – including 13 for losses. He forced three fumbles and also made an interception.
The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder was the 218th overall selection by Houston in the 2007 NFL Draft and spent his first four pro seasons with the Texans. He played eight years in all, also seeing action with Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Houston again before finishing his career with Cleveland in 2014.
Diles had 241 career tackles, one sack, three forced fumbles and an interception.
“It was a blessing,” Diles said. “I don’t take it for granted at all.”
And at every level, he said, it was all about the team.
The NFL was never something I had in mind. ... Even going into my senior year at Kansas State, I still didn’t think about the NFL. ... I just enjoyed being out there with my boys.
Diles, who prepped at Tulare High before moving on to Fresno City, Kansas State and eight seasons in the NFL
“The NFL was never something I had in mind. Baseball was my favorite sport,” Diles said. “I played football in high school just to be with my boys. I started my freshman year as an offensive lineman because I was chubby.
“Even going into my senior year at Kansas State, I still didn’t think about the NFL until agents started contacting me. I just enjoyed being out there with my boys.”
Fresno City College football Wall of Fame Class of 2016
Ceremony on Aug. 28 at Pardini’s.
- LB Zac Diles (2003-04)
- DB LaVance Ray (2000-01)
- QB Kyle Biggs (2000)
- LB Marquell Stinson (2001-02)
- TE Derek Hubbard (1993-94)
- Cornerstone selection Frances Lippman