Eagle Valley’s Thrall off to Northern Colorado | VailDaily.com

Eagle Valley’s Thrall off to Northern Colorado

Sean Minett
Vail, CO Colorado
SPT Zak Thrall 1 DT 4-29-09
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GYPSUM, Colorado ” For the past four years Zak Thrall has rarely been outsized on the football field.

Standing at nearly 6-foot-4 and weighing in at around 280 pounds of brute strength; the mammoth Eagle Valley senior offensive lineman is off to University of Northern Colorado to play Division I-AA football, now known as Football Championship Subdivision.

Division I football is a dream for most high school football players, so for Thrall to play at UNC is impressive and fulfilling, but what is more impressive is that he played at a 3A non-metro high school where he did not get a lot of exposure or media attention.

“Football is what I love to do so having that be my life is a dream come true,” Thrall said. “I definitely know it is going to be an intense experience. I know it is a job; you have to commit yourself completely. That is half of what I am looking forward to is committing myself to the sport I love.”

Living in the weight room

Thrall’s commitment to the sport has been on full display the past four years as he has sacrificed many precious summers to training for the upcoming seasons.

“It has just been hitting the weight room everyday all summer, weight room everyday in the school year and just training myself to be the best football player I can be, knowing that the ultimate dream is to play college football,” he said. “It has been hard for me to get a job in the summer because I have needed to lift and train every day. Trying to fit a job around my training is so hard because it is so time consuming.”

Even his head coach, John Ramunno, recognized Thrall’s commitment to lifting.

“He just really wanted to be part of the program, and he did whatever it took,” the coach said. “He dedicated himself to the weight room from his freshman year. He struggled to put up 150 pounds in the bench press as a freshman, but now he puts over 300 and he set the school record for hang cleans at 340.”

Thrall’s road to becoming a college athlete started as a freshman when he played varsity in specified roles such as being a key element on the field goal unit as well as being a varsity substitute.

“Playing in the playoffs against Steamboat and Cherokee Trail was ridiculous because I was just a little freshman,” Thrall said of his first year of high school football.

The two-time all-state lineman started three years for a very respectable football program and was the pillar of strength and leadership for the team during his tenure.

“He was voted team captain and that shows that kids look to him,” said Ramunno. “Anytime I would tell the offensive line to hit the ropes I would see Zak first in line. Even as a young player, he was into what was going on instead of dozing off like some other kids.”

Finding a new team

For the past for years No. 75 for the Devils has been lining up against players from teams like Palisade, Rifle, Montezuma- Cortez, and Battle Mountain, but after Thrall redshirts in college for his first year, he will be squaring off against players from teams such as Northern Arizona University, Montana and Montana State University along with the rest of the Big Sky Conference.

This change will be earth-shattering for Thrall who has always been known as the big man on campus as well as the big man on the field. No longer will he be able to toss around players like ragdolls as he has in recent years. Thrall will surely find his place on the field but only after a year on the sidelines learning the ropes and training harder than he ever has.

Zak was recruited by many schools including Mesa State, Western State, Oklahoma Panhandle State, the University of Redlands, and multiple colleges in Kansas but ultimately worked to play at UNC.

“Being from a small school, the dream has always been to play Division I football, but because I am from a small school, Division I schools didn’t really recruited me because they looked toward bigger schools,” said Thrall. “I e-mailed (assistant coach Dennis) Darnell at UNC and five minutes later he called me and started recruiting me. We had some calls back and forth and he came down to talk to coach Ramunno and myself about what I was capable of. Then he told me to send him a highlight tape, and after he looked at it he called me and told me he wanted me on the team and that I could contribute to the team in future years. That was one of the best phone calls of my entire life.”

Thrall hopes to earn a scholarship in the coming years and steal a starting job for the Bears who have sent multiple players into the NFL including Vincent Jackson, a wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers, and Aaron Smith of the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

“Playing in the NFL is the ultimate dream and UNC has a history of putting players in the NFL,” Thrall said. “If you work hard enough and dedicate yourself it could come. You have to love the game and commit yourself to the game, and it will come.”