By Matt Burnham
This week, Burnham talks to runaway Rookie of the Season candidate, Zach Sandlin.
Matt: First off, congrats on receiving the Player of the Week award. With a 291 yard, 4 touchdown performance last week, you’ve cemented yourself as a contender to be one of the greats of the season. As a rookie, did you have any idea you would come out as strong as you have thus far?
Zack: To be honest, no sir I did not. I kinda figured this inaugural season would be me learning the offense and being a bit of a roleplayer – come in when they needed those tough yards and try to add some balance to the offense. I wanted to do whatever I needed to do to help the team out, ya know? I never thought I’d be busting out games like I have been the last couple of weeks.
Matt: So in that sense, what were you training for/what kind of runner did you see yourself as at the start of the season compared to where you are now? Has your run style changed at all or is it something more malleable that molds to the needs of the offense?
Zack: Well, I was initially a linebacker when I entered the league. I had a pretty good showing in the Rookie Showcase (if I do say so myself). When Crash and Steven told me that they wanted me as a running back, I imagined myself as someone like Jerome Bettis. Big, strong, run you over, and has that sneaky speed in the open. My build and run style haven’t really changed very much from the start of the season ‘til now. I think I’m pretty malleable to the offense’s needs, as long as that doesn’t involve catching the ball [laughs]. If they need me to be a power-back and grind out those tough yards, I’m your guy. You need someone to take over the game and be a workhorse? I got you. Need someone to bust off some big play runs and swing some momentum? I’ll see what I can do for you. Need me to catch the ball? Well I’ll try, just remember I played defense first [laughs].
Matt: Well at least in football it’s better to be a master at your craft than a jack of all trades, right? So then as possibly more of a power-back, where do you think you feel most comfortable? Down the middle, around the ends, on stretches; anywhere in particular?
Zack: I’d say so [laughs]. I’m definitely a running back, if you know what I mean. I feel most comfortable between the tackles or coming just off the tackle on a power play. I’ve got sneaky speed, not in your face speed, so most of the time I’m not quick enough to turn the corner on a toss play or stretch play. Our line has been blocking amazingly the past few weeks which has let me get some open space or one-on-ones with the secondary. But I think I do my best work between the tackles.
Matt: Great stuff. So. since the offensive line is crucial to your success in blocking and making lanes for you, what do you look for when you start a run? In other words, what’s in your vision in those split seconds after the handoff and have you been able to capitalize on unexpected developments during a play?
Zack: I’m just looking for that first gap to run through. Don’t matter the size. I know where the play is supposed to go and I trust my guys up front to move their people for me. Once I see that little ray of sunshine, I hit it hard and fast. I think that suddenness, that quick step and go is what lets me make it through. Aaaaand my size and strength doesn’t hurt either. Being able to run through that first contact is definitely a big help to spring myself free. There’s been a couple times where I get the ball and there’s nothing but green grass in front of me ‘cuz my line has just parted the red sea for me. I get left one on one with a secondary guy and that’s where a lot of my big runs have come from.
Matt: Love the imagery there. Thinking about team dynamic, do you have a mantra or motto that you live and work by, and if so, how well do you think it gels with the ideals and mission of the Lobos?
Zack: I’ve got a couple. My biggest goal is to always be the best person I can be. Try to be better today than you were yesterday. Whatever mistakes you made in the past are done and over with. They happened, you can’t change that. All you can do is learn from them and move on to the next play, the next step, and make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.
Another way of saying that is a quote by Charles Swindoll:
“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.”
I think my mindset has meshed very well with Lobos ideals. I’m not here to chase glory or accolades or any of that. If I get them along the way that’s great. If I get 30 carries and 300 yards with a few touchdowns that’s fantastic. If I get 5 carries and 5 yards and no touchdowns, that’s fine too. I’m here to help the team succeed. And Steven, Crash, and Tristan have done a great job building a team of like-minded people that are here for team success. Personal gains or accolades are second. We all want to bring a championship to Dallas. That could be this year. May not be. We’re building something great here though.
Matt: Now with all this in mind, do you have any last words or something you want to leave the readers thinking about before we go?
Zack: I just want to thank everyone for the opportunity to be a part of this awesome league. The community here is amazing. It really is a privilege to be here and participate as a part of this as the league grows.
And a word of warning to everyone. Better keep an eye on these Lobos. We’re building something here that’s gonna be special. And sleep with one eye open you defensive guys, ‘cuz Mr. Sandman is coming for you. See y’all in your nightmares [devilish grin].