The Indomitable Spirit of Zach Sudfeld

The Indomitable Spirit of Zach Sudfeld

Agony and frustration were only a myriad of things Zach Sudfeld felt on Sept. 10, 2011. He lay flat on his stomach in Autzen Stadium with his toes facing 180 degrees in the opposite direction. He had to be carted off by the paramedics in front of 35 devastated family members.

Feature Photo by Mark Rauh - Silver and Blue Sports

His season came to an end as Sudfeld's leg was rolled into by his teammate on a run block in the third quarter of his senior campaign at Nevada.

His femur broke (known to be the longest and strongest bone in a human body) and his ankle was dislocated. This demoralizing injury would require two surgeries.

"Everyone at that point had fully expected me to never play football again," said the 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end, who now plays with the New York Jets.

Sudfeld could have easily walked away from football, as it was another setback in his injury-plagued career. He had nothing more to prove, friends and family members would tell him. He'd been through enough adversity.

Six painful surgeries at Nevada to be exact.

Sudfeld jokingly says an x-ray of the inside of his left leg now looks eerily similar to something you would find in Wolverine from X-Men.
But Sudfeld would have none of it, as his perseverance would kick in and ultimately decide to return to Nevada for a sixth season even though the odds were against him.

"It was the blue-collar path, there were no favors along the way," said his father Ralph Sudfeld.  "He just fought, fought, fought and overcame the crazy injury setbacks."  

He was already working on his master's degree in business administration, so he'd continue to do that while he rehabilitated. It took Sudfeld about a month to convince Hall-of-fame coach Chris Ault he was serious about returning for his sixth season.

Ault felt the fire and determination from Sudfeld and granted him a spot on the roster. He was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

"I definitely put in some hours and I should've been paying rent in that training room for how long I was in there rehabbing," Sudfeld said laughing. 

Photo by Mark Zerof - USA Today

Sudfeld's perseverance stems from the family business (Assist International) his grandfather, Bob Pagett created in 1990 to deliver hope to "address the needs of the world's most vulnerable people," as the organization's mission statement says.

The 24-year-old took his first trip to Uganda a couple weeks ago alongside his fraternal twin brother, Matt. During the nine days in Uganda, they aided many different groups of people: farmers, women and orphans.

Dry seasons and droughts regularly occur in Africa, which is why Assist International began Project 41.

Project 41 provides manually operated bicycles that pump fresh water up from underground. The devices, known as Rainmakers, enable farmers to produce crops year-round, thus providing them with a sustainable source of food and income.

"I admire how Zach jumped in with his arms wide open, and how he was forming friendships with the locals of the country," Matt said.  "I think it was a profound trip for him."

From Sudfeld's initial voyage to Romania at the age of 13, to his most recent ventures to Myanmar, Thailand and Uganda, Zach always seems to put things in perspective.

"Anytime you go oversees and see the way people live, I think it really alters your worldview," Sudfeld said. "It becomes quite the life-changing experience."

Even after receiving no invite to the NFL Combine, going undrafted and being released by the New England Patriots, these bumps have inspired him to never give up no matter how bad the situation may be.

After being released by the Patriots, the Jets claimed him off of waivers 24 hours later. He played 11 games after only playing three with the Patriots and finished with five receptions and 63 yards for the Jets.

"I was very fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to showcase myself through the preseason and four games in I got released, then pick up here (Jets)," Sudfeld said. "It was an eye-opening experience. All I really think about is making the most out of this opportunity here in the NFL and make it last as long as possible."  

Photo by Mark Rauh - Silver and Blue Sports

Sudfeld aspires to be the starting tight end next season for the Jets and show his "Nevadatude" every Sunday. 

"People know what they are getting when they bring in Nevada players," Sudfeld said.  "You're going to get someone who's going to come in and have a good work ethic, work hard and just be willing to do what it takes."

Leo can be reached on Twitter Recommended Stories