Zach Zenner: SDSU Running Back

By Robert Myers Sports Editor

Zenner’s story: An inside look at the rise of Zach Zenner and his  life outside of football

Today running back Zach Zenner is a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a Walter Payton Award candidate and two-time 2,000-yard rusher, but these accolades may not have been expected of Zenner in previous years.

A native of Eagan, Minn., Zenner was not heavily recruited out of high school.

“As a junior I was kind of recruiting myself,” Zenner said. “I was thinking, more of a D-III program, maybe a D-II. After my senior year, I got offered by St. Cloud State and Mankato State in Minnesota as well as Augustana. I came up to SDSU and they offered me as well, but SDSU was my only Division I offer in football.”

In line with his status as a recruit, Zenner ended up redshirting his freshman year.

“The experience was invaluable, just to get used to things, to get stronger with [strength and conditioning], coach [Nate] Moe, getting used to the college lifestyle,” Zenner said.

Even during his redshirt-freshman year, Zenner was not the star running back fans know today. During the 2011 season he split carries with Tyrel Kool and did not break one hundred yards rushing in a game.

Zenner’s big jump came the following year when he took hold of the starting role and didn’t look back, rushing for 2,044 yards and earning AP All-American Second Team honors.

“We changed the offense a little bit, caught some people off guard. We also had a real solid group of offensive line guys, not that we didn’t the year before, but the offensive line did a real nice job that year,” Zenner said about the changes that brought about his rise. “We also brought in [offensive line] coach [John] Flynn who had a different style of blocking that stumped some teams.”

SDSU finished with a 5-7 record Zenner’s first year on campus. Since then they have made the playoffs in back to back years and are currently ranked No. 9 in the FCS Top 25.

“That’s a change that you want to see,” Zenner said. “Now you want to change the expectation to going far in the playoffs.”

With back to back 2,000-yard seasons under his belt, Zenner has surpassed the 5,000-yard mark in rushing yards, leading him to break the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s career rushing record and some to speculate that he could eclipse 6,000 career rushing yards by the end of the season.

“My response would be that it’s really not about the yards, it’s about getting wins,” Zenner said. “I could have zero yards, but if we win the game I’ll be just as happy.”

In the process of gaining the yards, Zenner has logged more than 300 carries each of the past two seasons and is on a pace that should again guide him to that mark. With these carries come bumps and bruises that Zenner must overcome each week.

“I really just try to work on my flexibility and get in the ice tubs and get in the training room, and time – time is the great healer,” Zenner said.

Zenner said he doesn’t have one specific run that sticks in his memory, but he does particularly remember the Eastern Illinois game in 2012 and the Youngstown State game in 2013.

Besides his many accomplishments on the football field, Zenner has also left an impact on the community of Brookings and in many other places through his service activities. He said the first activity he can remember is Feed My Starving Children, which he attended in middle school.     

One group Zenner has been involved with while at SDSU is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes which he said he participated in on and off his freshman and sophomore years before becoming more heavily involved the past two years.

Zenner also joined the Student Athlete Advisory Committee as a redshirt freshman.

“Coach Stig just said, ‘Hey, do you want to be part of SAAC? I think you’d be good at it,’ and I said sure.” Zenner said.

Stiegelmeier’s prediction proved accurate as Zenner has served as SAAC president the past two years.

In the classroom, Zenner is majoring in Pre-medicine/Biology.

“Really, I was interested in the sciences when I was a kid. That stemmed from my dad and deer hunting, as well as just the discussions we would have,” Zenner said.

Zenner said his goal is to become a doctor, possibly a surgeon, but before that there might still be some football left in his future beyond this season.

“[My plan is to] definitely take a shot at the NFL and defer enrollment to a medical school,” Zenner said.