Two Brothers, One Dream





Jan. 28, 2013

Editor's note: Jake Ward is a third-year journalism student who is interning with Nevada Athletics.


Two Brothers, One Dream

By: Jake Ward

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- Two fourth grade schoolboys walk out of their final class for the day, eager to go home. They smile and laugh, planning their activities for that afternoon when they are approached by a friend of theirs from class. "It's not fair you can go over to each other's house's all the time and not invite anybody else," the classmate said. The two boys laughed, exchanging looks of amusement before responding to their classmate in unison, "We're brothers."

Zach and Matthew Sudfeld grew up in the Santa Cruz, California. They were two peas in a pod, always side by side. Zach had a tall but slender frame. His meaty build topped off with short-cut bleach blonde hair, complemented by a pair of emerald green eyes. He was a almost a miniature version of the surfer boy stereotype. Maybe that's where he got his love for the ocean. He towered over Matt, who was short and slender, with sandy brown hair and soft brown eyes. 

The school day seemed to drag on, but it was tolerable because they boys spent it all together. When they could finally go home, it was always homework first. But homework was boring. Why do they have to be inside working on schoolwork when they could be outside in the bright California sunshine? They loved playing football out on the black asphalt of the cul-de-sac in front of their house after school everyday. They would dream of bigger days, wearing the red and gold of the San Francisco 49ers. Matt would step up under center, as if he was Steve Young in his MVP 1994 season. He would have two receivers to his left, and Zach would be to his right, as if he was Jerry Rice in his 1986 breakout year when he had 1,570 receiving yards and averaged 98 yards per game.


 

 

Four seconds left in the fourth quarter here at Candlestick Park, and the 49ers trail the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 21-17. 69,732 screaming fans are on their feet, listen to this crowd roar! There's only four seconds left, this will most certainly be the last play of the game. Matt Sudfeld steps up under center... Now he drops back, and the Cowboys are bringing the house! It's a heavy rush, and Matt is scrambling under pressure! One second left, he rolls to his left, now reverses direction back to the right. The clock is showing double zeros. He sees Zach running a slant route, streaking across the asphalt and slings it into the middle! IT'S CAUGHT IN THE BACK OF THE END ZONE, TOUCHDOWN 49ERS! Just past the outstretched arm of the defender and into Zach Sudfeld's waiting fingertips! And the crowd goes wild!

"Boys, it's time for dinner!" They jog into the house for their mom's home cooking.

The boys played all the typical sports when they were younger, from pop warner football to parks and recreational basketball, to little league baseball. They were always on the same team, they wouldn't have it any other way. Matt enjoyed all of the early success between the brothers. In football, he was the starting quarterback. In baseball, he was a pitcher. In basketball, he was a shooting guard. He had pure athletic talent and was an all around athlete, his various MVP awards he had earned from playing were proof.

"Matt always dominated every sport he played in," Ralph Sudfeld, the boys' father, said. "Zach was always in the game, but Matt found success earlier, it just connected with him."


MODESTO, Calif. -- Crunch time. Time to see what teams, and players are made of. The final week of the season was just around the corner, and playoff trips are on the line. High schools all over northern California were preparing for the impending playoff push, and Modesto Christian High School, home of the Crusaders, were on the bubble. Coming into the last week, they held their own destiny. A win and they were back in the playoffs, ending the drought. A loss meant another year of watching the playoffs from the sideline, not having the chance to represent their school in the most popular high school sport.

Ralph and his wife, Michelle, were at home one day when they received a phone call. It was Mike Parsons, the varsity high school football coach. It was about bringing their son up to the Varsity squad to play the final week with them before the playoffs. 

"No, we need Zach," Parsons said.

They couldn't believe it. Their jaws dropped. Matt was always the better athlete. The team had tried five different players at tight end that year, but none of the players were clicking. Parsons knew he needed that extra threat that he could count on in the red zone. But he also needed a big body to throw some blocks down in the trenches to open up holes for the running game. It was then when he turned his focus to the junior varsity team where Zach was quietly turning heads.

"We just struggled at tight end that year," Parsons said. "We had seniors that came out late, and we tried another kid, I knew we were struggling. We needed a guy to come in, and he (Zach) played well at junior varsity."

But the elation was bittersweet for the two brothers. This would be the first time in their sporting careers that they would not play on the same team. Years and years of rapport built playing pitch and catch in the front yard would be useless.

"Getting pulled up to varsity as a sophomore was a big deal at our small high school," Matt said. "It was the first time we played for different teams, and it gave him an opportunity to carve out his own athletic identity. I was happy and nervous for him."

The varsity practice field was only a short jog away from the junior varsity field, but it was in the same awful conditions with gopher holes spread out like land mines. He got some baffling looks as he trotted onto the field. What's this guy doing here? How's he going to help us? He took it in stride, being cheered on by his brother and other friends from the other side of the field. It sucked without them, mainly without Matt. It was scary being on the varsity team when you're that young, like everyone is watching you under a microscope. But for Zach, it was just another normal week of practice.


MARIPOSA, Calif. -- It was anything but green grass on the home field of Mariposa High School, the demolition derby the week prior had made sure of that. No, instead, it was a stew of the occasional spark plug, dead grass, weeds and mud. There were no visiting bleachers, leaving visiting fans to stand or share the bleachers of the home crowd. It was the last shot at the playoffs, the last shot at representing your school. It's the last shot to get your name on that championship banner that hangs in the school gym. Finally, the time had come.

Zach ran out onto the dying field of Mariposa High. It's just another game. Just go out there and do your job. Matt was on the sidelines, performing his normal varsity game job of tracking all the offensive plays. Tonight, he had an additional task -- to cheer on his brother in his first ever varsity game. The rest of the family packed into the home bleachers like a can of sardines, making sure they didn't miss a play. They've been waiting for this game since the boys were freshman.

"My hands were sweating the whole time I was trying to jot down the plays on a clipboard," Matt said. "It was really stressful. I was just hoping he wouldn't get benched."

The first half sped by like the Daytona 500, it was a defensive war. Points were hard to come by, and Modesto Christian was in danger of having to face an uphill battle in the second half. They had to make a something happen. They needed a Doug Flutie miracle. They went for it all.

Parsons called a hail mary, knowing it was the last play of the half. Get into the end zone, let's tie this game up. It was a mad dash to the end zone, players from both teams clustered in the far corner of the end zone. The Modesto Christian quarterback launched the ball in the air like a satellite, heaving it as far as he could. Zach jumped out of his under armor cleats, but only managed to get his fingertips on the ball. It bounced off his hands like a trampoline, and fell into the waiting hands of one of his teammates to knot the score before half.

Parsons led his team into the locker room. The score was tied, but they weren't in a comfortable position, and he made sure his team knew that. They had confidence, but they had to come out in the second half with the focus of a samurai. Zach saw little action in the first half, but the second half was going to be as different as the way Zach and Matt looked. The first chance he had to show the varsity team what he could do after practicing with them all week was flying at him in a tight spiral.

He dropped the ball. 

"I got pulled up, and I was so nervous, I was shaking," Zach said. "I did well in practice, and on my first pass attempt of the game, I was wide open and I just dropped it. I couldn't believe it."

"As a parent, that's disheartening," Ralph said. "But as the game went on, they looked to him more."

The final drive would determine who would represent their section in the playoffs, and the ball was with Modesto Christian. Down by one score and on their own 30 yard line with a 1:30 left, they had their work cut out for them. Coach called in a passing play designed for the newest number on the team, No. 40. 

It was Zach's new number.

He hauled it in got out of bounds. They're approaching midfield, and time is starting to become a factor. The coach called his number for a second time. Catch number two on for the drive. Only 40 seconds left and they're into Mariposa territory. Moving down the field, coach called Zach's No. 40 for a third time, same result. They're in the red zone, threatening to score with the game on the line. The quarterback is under heavy pressure, and he makes a scramble to the outside, stretching for the end zone but is dragged down at the one yard line. The Crusaders hustle back to the line of scrimmage to line up in formation to spike the ball and stop the clock, but it's too little, too late. The game was over.

The host Grizzlies went cheering in elation over their playoff birth, but were stopped before they could uncap their bottles of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. Modesto Christian had spiked the ball in time, but the clock operator didn't stop the clock soon enough. The referees caught it though, and gave the Crusaders a second chance by putting one second back on the clock.

One second left. The one yard line. One shot to secure the last playoff birth. Everything was riding on this last play. The team came out with one tight end and one receiver out wide. It was a quick three step drop before he fired it into the end zone. 

"He sees Zach running a slant route, streaking across the asphalt and slings it into the middle! IT'S CAUGHT IN THE BACK OF THE END ZONE, TOUCHDOWN 49ERS!"

He caught the ball for a touchdown. Modesto Christian was back in the playoffs. The kid who dropped his first ever varsity pass caught the game winning touchdown.

"It's sort of a defining moment for Zach, because it's his coming of age story in football," Ralph said. "I credit the coach for staying with him."

Zach continued to stay on the varsity team, and he was soon joined by his brother. Matt was still the best athlete on the JV team, and Parsons knew they could benefit from having more athleticism on the team. But they already had a quarterback, their own version of Matt -- a stud all-around athlete. He was the starting point guard on the basketball team, and eventually signed to play at Kentucky. Parsons decided to bring Matt up anyway, and to open a spot, he moved their current starter out to wide receiver so they could give him a chance to make a play.

Reunited, and oh, did it feel so good. The chemistry between the brothers powered them through the playoffs, but the clock struck midnight before they could reach reach the brass ring. They didn't fulfill their dream of winning the championship, but from then on out, it was clear where the desires of the two brothers lay -- on the gridiron.

"It's funny to me, because back when he was in high school, I kept telling him to go with a sport where there was no ambulance cart on the side," Michelle said. "I would always tease him about it, but there was something about football he just loved, and it was his thing, and I didn't want to stand in the way of what he wanted to do."


MODESTO, Calif. -- Fall. It was that time of year again. It was the boys' senior year, and it was time to start doing their research. It was time to start applying for colleges and worry about all the typical college options: What will my major be? Where am I going to live? Will I keep playing football? The SAT's were approaching, they had to study up. Zach and Matt were starting to feel the pressure. 

There was always the junior college option, but it was something that didn't interest the boys much. They had the brains, both brothers were great students in high school. It was evident they had the athletic talent. Any parent that watched the two brothers play together knew that they had something special. They could go to almost any university they wanted to go. They wanted to stay local, and they had plenty of California colleges to pick from. There was Fresno State, California Berkeley, UC Davis, the options were limitless. The first place they were thinking was a hop, skip and a jump from their house. A school that had 12 conference titles and 27 All-Americans. The home of the Cardinal.

Both Matt and Zach attended recruiting day for Stanford. It was all coming together for the two brothers -- they were going to be preferred walk-ons, where they would not receive any scholarships, but would still play for the football team. That way they could continue playing football and get an education at one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. Most importantly, they could stay together playing the sport they loved the most.

The dream quickly started to unravel like a ball of yarn, as the boys were told only that offer would be extended to Zach. Stanford wasn't looking for a quarterback, they had already found their leader for the future in Andrew Luck. He couldn't move to another position, because he was too small. They wouldn't be playing football together, but Matt could watch from the stands, and their future would be written upon the chalkboards of the Palo Alto, California campus.

It wouldn't matter. The Jim Harbaugh era began soon after in Stanford, and like he was driving a brand new Corvette, he sped off in a new direction, and unfortunately for the Sudfelds, they were left behind in the dust.

"The thing with Stanford was `wouldn't it be cool, it's in our backyard, we can bring a boatload of people to every game, it would be fun,' " Ralph said.

After Stanford fell through, the Ivy league came calling. Matt and Zach were both being recruited heavily by Dartmouth and Brown. This would be the preverbal win-win for the boys. They could continue their academic careers in some of the best schools in the nation, while also continuing to play their favorite sport at the next level. Dartmouth was the early favorite, with Brown not far behind. The head coach of the Dartmouth Big Green, which had an undergraduate student body of 4,428 students, was looking at both Matt and Zach. It wouldn't be the warm California weather they were used to, but playing football together would be all they needed.

That was until head coach Nevada head coach Chris Ault and recruiter Barry Sacks talked to Gary Porter, the varsity basketball coach at Modesto Christian.

"The basketball program there [at Modesto Christian] is very highly recognized and successful," Ralph said. "Chris Ault and Barry Sacks, they knew of his success as a coach, and players before that went to Nevada, it was a little bit of a relational pipeline, and it just kind of happened where he [Porter] said you guys need to look at Zach."

And they did. They liked what they saw so much so that they offered him a chance to play at Nevada. At the same time, Brown was courting Matt, and they gave him the chance to make the journey east to Rhode Island to continue his playing career in the Ivy League. Zach encouraged Matt to take the offer that was on the other side of the country because even though they'd be apart, it was a good fit for him. 

After some discussion, the boys had finally made up their mind: They were going to go to different schools. The one sport they loved the most would be what separated the twins for the first time ever. School, pop warner football, high school sports. Everything they did up to this point was side by side. It was like comparing apples and oranges when you looked at them, but Matt was the peanut butter to Zach's jelly. The bacon to his eggs, the bagel to his cream cheese. They had spent the majority of their lives together, and now they would be 2,861.4 miles away from each other.

"It was interesting in that growing up, being twins, we always did everything together," Matt said. "It was weird going our separate ways. I felt like our relationship got even stronger when we went to different situations because there was someone that was going through the same thing. When I would struggle playing at Brown, the one person who knew what I was going through was Zach."


EUGENE, Oregon -- Eugene, Oregon. Autzen Stadium, home of the Oregon Ducks, was the site of Nevada's 2011 football opener. The Nevada offense has a new look. Gone are the heroes of the 2010 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl team, Colin Kaepernick and Virgil Green. Instead, the Wolf Pack turned to Tyler Lantrip, the fifth-year senior, to start at quarterback. Another fifth-year senior was ready to begin his season as the starting tight end -- Zach Sudfeld.

"I had high expectations for myself," Zach said. "It was the start of a big year, I was excited and I felt healthier than ever. I had no inclination that would happen would happen."

Ralph, Michelle, and younger brother Nate were in the stands eagerly waiting for one of the biggest games of Zach's career. The 15th row was close enough for them, but they couldn't have missed his six foot seven inch frame even if they were in the nosebleed seats; he towered over his teammates. But there was one person who was conspicuously absent.

The temperature was beginning to plummit. The leaves were turning from their normal vibrant green to burgundy red and shimmering gold, signaling the arrival of fall. A slight breeze was blowing through the 178,042 person city, and the sun shone through the partial cloud cover. The Brown Bears were yet to begin their season, so Matt Sudfeld was able to open the college football season by watching it on T.V. like the rest of the nation. He was at a buddies house to take it in, vacuuming up food and washing it down with some refreshing cola. The T.V. channel? FX. It was Nevada at Oregon. All the way across the country, he wasn't going to miss a second of that game. He knew what it meant to Zach, but it meant just as much to him.

The excitement to begin the year quickly subsided for the Wolf Pack. They were outmatched against Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon. The game was starting to slip away on national television. The Ducks were sprinting away with the game early on like they were Usain Bolt, only they wouldn't let up. 41-7 was the score at halftime, and there had been few signs that the Pack revive the fading start to their season.

In the third quarter, the Wolf Pack were back to the running game. Mike Ball took the handoff on the edge and went to turn the corner up the field. As the play stretched to the outside, so did the pile of players, which continued to grow like a snowball rolling downhill. At the nucleus of the snowball was Zach, sticking to his blocking assignment as if his life depended on it. As Ball was being tackled, the pile collapsed -- on top of Zach's legs. He couldn't feel his leg. Something was wrong, seriously wrong. He tried to stand but fell down immediately as pain coursed through his leg like a electricity. He looked down to see that his foot spun 180 degrees, and he could now see the Nike sign on the back of his blue and white cleat as if someone had drawn it on a piece of paper in front of him.

It looked like a modern day repeat of the career-ending injury Joe Theismann suffered at the hands of Lawrence Taylor. A season full of promise and high expectations seemingly ended on a fluke play in a matter of moments. Team doctors and trainers rushed the field to tend to the fallen Sudfeld as he lay on the artificial turf, writhing in pain. Unable to get off the field under his own power, Zach was carted off the field and through the tunnels to the X-Ray machines in the Oregon training room.

"It got fallen on, it snapped, dislocated, and I spun around," Zach said. "It was kind of numb, and I was laying on my stomach. I looked back and saw the Nike sign on the back of my cleats, and I put my head on the ground like, `you've got to be kidding me.' I thought it was a career-ender."

A fractured fibula and a dislocated ankle was the diagnosis. It wasn't career ending as Zach had originally thought, but it would rob him of his fifth year early, and with it, his final year of eligibility to play football for the Wolf Pack. It also sent him back to the operating table for a sixth time.

"Zach was just starting to process it in the locker room," Ralph said. "We talked in the locker room while the game was finishing. He was sitting there with his pads off, and there's really nothing to say. You just sit there, and you want to do anything possible you can to support him.

"He went from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows."


SCOTTS VALLEY, Calif. -- The soft glow of the television lit up the room. Scattered around the california king bed in the living room of his grandparents house in Scotts Valley, California was empty Dominoe's pizza boxes and Taco Bell wrappers. It was 2 A.M., and the sounds of hockey commentators on "NHL Live 2010" echoed down the hall. "Score! 1-0 San Jose!" Zach wasn't sleeping. Why should he? His dreams of playing football again snapped in Autzen Stadium with his fibula. "Score! It's now 2-0 Sharks!" It doesn't matter anymore. "Centering pass... SCORE! 3-0!" I'm never going to be able to play football again, I was robbed of my last senior season. "One-timer from the point, SCORE!" Why should I care?

"I had been through it so many times with all my previous stuff," Zach said. "I knew what to expect coming back from surgery. When I thought I wouldn't play football again, there was this sense of, `It doesn't really matter,' and I wanted to be alone and not have to think about it. For a short time, I just almost gave up, like I didn't care.

"If I could have, I would have gone to Australia, or somewhere as far away as I could. It was tough because I had messages on Facebook and voicemails that said sorry about the injury, but I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want people's pity and I just needed to get away."

His safe haven was the ocean. The sun was shining bright, lighting up the sandy beach like a flashlight in the dark. The peaceful sound of the waves crashing upon the shore, the crystal blue water and the salty ocean air, he couldn't quite put his finger on it, but he loved it all. There, he could take his time to think about things and truly put everything into perspective. It was only a couple days of elevating his foot in the stuffy house in Northern California before he had his mom drive him out to the beach. It didn't matter that he was in a haze of legal prescription pain pills or that he was on crutches; he just needed to feel the coarse sand in between his toes. Standing on the shore, the waves broke into foam at his feet. The water stretched as far as he could see. Somehow, it all disappeared from his mind.

"I've always felt comfortable around the ocean," Zach said. "It was more peaceful for me to go through that out there. I don't know what it is, but I really wanted to be out there, away from everything going on over here. I just wanted to get away and never think about it again."

Zach took advantage of the time he spent with his family during his two weeks in Scotts Valley. He spent time with his two younger sisters; they would come home and plop down next to him on his king bed and tell them every detail about their day, it was a good distraction. He could still feel the pain shoot through his leg, but it wasn't about that, it was about what was happening on his sisters' volleyball teams. Zach leaned on all of his family during his recovery from surgery, including his youngest brother Nate, who now attends Indiana University.

"We talked about `Is this supposed to happen, are things not going to work, should I do something else,'" Nate said. "I thought he had a good attitude, and I kept thinking, `Why does this have to happen to Zach?' Nothing worse could happen to a better person, and it killed me to see him go out like that in his senior year."

Nobody quite understood him like Matt, though. He could talk to his parents, or he could talk to his sisters, but it was his twin that he could lean on. The Tiki to his Ronde Barber. He knew what it was like to have to deal with the life of a college athlete. All the travel, the level of performance. But even more, there was still his graduate classes that he had to get through. Zach was unsure about going back to school, and it was Matt that pushed him through it. His teachers had told him to drop out of his classes, that he was too far behind to make up all of the work he had missed by not keeping in touch right after his injury, but Matt wouldn't let him. They talked on the phone two, three, sometimes four times a week. They didn't talk about the the injury, they didn't have to. It's wasn't always spoken, but Zach knew Matt was looking out for him. He knew he was just as distressed about it as he was.

"He was kind of going through the same situation, he pulled his hamstring the first week of the season," Zach said. "He was dealing with that, and sometimes it's nice to have someone who knows your situation, because outside of football teammates, people don't understand the difficulties of being a college athlete."


RENO, Nev. -- Back to Reno. Back to being away from his family. Back to rehabilitation. He's done it before, six times to be exact. He knew what to do and what to expect -- calf raises, jumping rope, running in the pool. He was always in the training room with team trainer Andy Mutnam rehabilitating. He was lifting while his teammates were doing their early morning workouts. During team practices on the football field, he was in the weight room building back his leg strength. The team would return from games late at night to find Zach still lifting weights like he was training for Mr. Universe. His work ethic wouldn't let him stop, he didn't know any different. It was in his blood. From the training room, he could see the stands of Mackay Stadium. He could hear the roar of the crowd when he ran onto the artificial turf across the Nevada logo. He could feel the thrill of scoring his first touchdown.

One thing remained clear, as clear as the day he was sitting on that beach -- He wasn't done with football. He knew right then, as he watched the natural flow of the ocean, that he would make a return to football. He was going to return. He wasn't going to let a broken fibula stop him, nothing could. It was his time to shine, his senior year, he wanted his name in the starting line up on the jumbo screen when the Wolf Pack opened their season in Berkeley, California. He was going to return, and that was that. That winter break was spent with Matt and Nate working out together, spotting and pushing each other as hard as they could in the gym. They would go down to the park and throw passes to each other, working on his hands. Matt and Nate weren't going to let him end his career like that, they were football players for heaven's sake. They supported him, as did Ralph and Michelle. They didn't want to push him, it was something he had to do on his own. But once his mind was made up, they knew there was no stopping him. They all knew he was going to be better than ever.

To qualify for a medical redshirt, a student-athlete must have missed most, if not all of, two seasons, with the time missed supported by paperwork documenting all injuries. Zach redshirted his freshman year, saving a year of eligibility. He was going to learn and develop his game on the scout team, soaking in all of the knowledge he could like a sponge. Zach was named the team's winner of the Full-Speed, Effort and Habit Awards for offense. He was like a speeding training heading for greatness, but the next season he started to come off the track. It was a routine day of practice, starting running some offensive plays before the team broke into individual positions. Zach was running a post route across the middle, and jumped high into the air to bring the ball back down with him. He landed with his hand out in front of him to brace his fall when pain shot through him. He couldn't move his hand, so they took him for x-rays. It was broke, like a homeless man living on the streets. The fluke injury cost him his first season that he was eligible to play for the Pack, and left him with a cast for 12 weeks.

Zach met with team trainers and doctors about applying for a medical redshirt to continue his football career for a sixth season at Nevada. It was going to be a long process. All the paperwork, the documents supporting his injuries, going through NCAA procedures, they were handled by the people in the front office. Zach played his part by writing an essay explaining why he wanted to come back to play football. That was easy-- it was the only thing he wanted to do.

Wide eyes. Jaws dropping. Puzzling stares. They were quite different than the reactions he received from his family.

"They looked at me like, `Why would you want to do that?'" Zach said. "I was thinking I didn't want to go out like that."

Zach first met with his position coach, James Spady. He was one of the few people that Zach had kept in contact with during rehabilitation. His answer staggered Zach; he was skeptical, didn't want to see Zach get hurt again, because what if it was more serious this time? Finally, he said that if he wanted to come back, there would always be a place for him.

But the toughest critic of all was yet to come, head coach Chris Ault.

"No," Ault said. "You've had enough Sud. If you were my son, you've had enough football, you don't need to be doing it. I think we had three different conversations, and finally the third one, I said ok."

After finally earning the approval from his head coach to apply, Zach then wrote his letter to the NCAA asking for a medical redshirt to return for his sixth season with the Wolf Pack, his second as a senior.

He received it.

"When he was agonizing about what to do, he realized that he had unfinished business," Michelle said. "He never really had the opportunity in a game to show what he could do on the field. My initial reaction was if this is what you think you need to do, then go for it. He wrestled with it for a while, but when he knew what he wanted to do, I was behind him 100 percent."

This year, Zach finished 12th in receptions, ninth in receiving yards, and fourth in touchdowns in the nation. Those numbers made him a Second Team All-Mountain West Conference member and a semi-finalist for the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation's top tight end. His final stop was in St. Petersburg, Florida for the East-West Shrine game at Tropicana Field as a member of the West squad. While the West won 28-13, Sudfeld only snagged one catch for nine yards. He built a season that most can only dream about, and it could be capped off come this April in New York City with the NFL Draft. It will have taken him six seasons, doubling the amount of time Julio Jones spent in college, but the childhood dream would finally come true. Not just for Zach, but for Matt as well.

"For him to reach that goal despite all the obstacles he's encountered would be remarkable," Matt said, who now works for a humanitarian NGO based out of California. "This is the kind of guy he has been all along, so it's rewarding to see it all pay off. It was inspiring watching his work ethic, and now it's special to see him step out on the field every week this year. I know what he's been through, I've known these things all along."

Not only did Zach post career numbers, he completed his MBA from Nevada in December. All of this came after he didn't know if he would even return to Reno.

Zach has gone through what all athletes hope they can go their life without: repeatedly being bitten by the injury bug, constantly getting knocked down to see if he can muster up the strength to stand up again, the ultimate trials and tribulations of a man's strength. It's something Zach has done time and time again.

"There's football Zach, but there's also man of character Zach, and that's who I admire," Michelle said. "You see someone's character in the roughest of times. Zach's been there, and he's come out as a man with character."

But this isn't a journey that he has made alone.

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