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House on the Hill: Never Say Never

December 30, 2014

Game Recap | Highlights | Photo GalleryExpress-Times Story on Zach's Journey

It would have been enough to make countless people walk away from the football field.

In November of 2012 as Zach Zweizig's sophomore season was coming to a close, he lost his father - who he referred to as his best friend - to a stroke.

Less than a year later in September of 2013, Zweizig '14, then Lafayette College's starting quarterback, suffered a concussion that ended his season and left him with severe headaches that lasted nearly nine months.

Senior Zach Zweizig walks off the field for the final time in the Maroon and White after a 27-7 victory over Lehigh in the 150th game of College Football's Most Played Rivalry at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 22.

"One of the biggest things about concussions is depression," Zweizig said. "I was in my room and saw the team winning, and I didn't feel like I did anything to help the team. My head hurt all the time. I was in a bad state. One of reasons I did not want to come back and play was I did not want that feeling again for nine months. You really don't know how hard it is until you have one."

So Zweizig made the decision during the summer of 2014 that he wasn't going to play his senior year. He couldn't imagine stepping on a field and not having his father there, and the fear of suffering another nasty head injury was always on his mind.

Then came one of his toughest moments.

"I had to have a conversation with Coach Frank Tavani and tell him that I made the decision that I wasn't going to come back," Zweizig recalled. "He was upset because we had become pretty close. He's always been very good at speaking with me, not just as a coach, but as a friend. He understood that I just didn't have it any more."

But even after the Wilson West Lawn High School graduate had seemingly said goodbye to the game he had always loved, he still found himself dissecting his decision with his longtime girlfriend Veronica Lloyd, who also went to Wilson West Lawn and is a year behind Zweizig at Lafayette. She had a sneaking suspicion Zweizig was making the wrong decision.

At first she hesitated telling him, but knowing him as well as she did, she knew she had to be honest with him.

"After his junior year, he had no motivation at all to play his senior season," Lloyd said. "I knew his dad pretty well, and it was hard for me to say it at first, but his dad would have wanted him to play. This summer, I said he would regret quitting his senior year for the rest of his life. Sometimes I felt hypocritical because I quit lacrosse after my freshman year, but I knew lacrosse wasn't for me. For him, it was hardships, not because he didn't love the sport."

Zweizig took Lloyd's advice to heart, and two weeks before preseason camp started, he marched back into Tavani's office and gave him the news.

"We talked, and he said he felt good and would be ready if he was needed," Tavani said. "I was ecstatic. I had kept hoping, deep down, that he would come back. I love having him around. He's a great leader, a great person. He's a tremendous example for everyone."

"I still get people asking how it feels and I still can't believe it happened. I came back my senior year, and was like, 'OK, I'll be a part of the team.' I wasn't thinking I'll help the team win one of the biggest games in school history. It's just surreal."

What he did in preparation for and during Lafayette's 150th meeting against Lehigh University on Nov. 22 at Yankee Stadium was nothing short of tremendous.

Tavani called on Zweizig to take the reins with starting quarterback Drew Reed already out for the season and backup Blake Searfoss having gotten hurt four days before the Lehigh game.

With the way Zweizig played against Lehigh in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 50,000 people, you'd never know he hadn't played a down since September 2013. In front of Lloyd, his mother, stepfather, sister and stepbrother, Zweizig led the Leopards to their historical win by completing 13 of 23 pass attempts for 166 yards and one touchdown.

"I hadn't been up against a live pass rush since [the] Penn [game], and you kind of lose that without playing," he admitted. "But as soon as I got out there, it felt like I never missed a game. I'm a pretty calm guy. I try not to get too emotional before a game or too fired up, but I was definitely thinking about my grandfather and my father. My father always told me that if anything ever happened to him he would be sitting on that goal post. I just wished they had been there to see the game. This game mattered for the future of Lafayette. It was an awesome experience. I loved it.

"I still get people asking how it feels and I still can't believe it happened. I came back my senior year, and I was like, 'OK, I'll be part of the team.' I wasn't thinking I'll help the team win one of the biggest games in school history. It's just surreal."

There are many things Tavani is thankful for when he looks back on that win in late November, but perhaps nothing has meant more to him than the return of Zweizig.

"He is one of the toughest-minded athletes I've been around," Tavani said. "There aren't a lot of people in that upper category, and he certainly falls into that. You can't help but really like him and how he handles himself. It's been totally gratifying to watch him."

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill