I was in my third year of undergrad with a million things I should have been paying attention to but only one thing truly had my focus. You guessed it, a boyfriend. I met Zach when I was 19 years old and still dating my high school sweetheart. I knew when I first met him that he was special but I was in MAJOR denial. It took me months of developing a friendship with him (and many frustrated nights for Zach when I said I would hang out but showed up with a group of girlfriends) but I finally came to my senses and realized that Zach was my guy. Pretty much since we started dating in October 2011 it was football, football, football. I even talked my coach into moving one of our Saturday practices so we could go to one of the first games of the season vs. Baylor. HELLO. Dedication.
It was exhilarating watching him play. I was SO proud that he was my man. His number was on the front of my shirt with my future last name on the back. Those are memories I will never ever forget and will forever cherish. Life was simpler back then, football was a means of getting an education & for the love of the game. Of course he knew he was good but Zach never thought he would play in the NFL. It was never a childhood dream of his (he’s a major hockey fan) so when all of sudden agents started getting in contact with him it kind of just hit him…like woah, this could totally happen. I remember going to dinners with him and potential agents who flew to Dallas and thought it was so bizarre. Cool, but bizarre.
Zach graduated in December 2012 (because he was a gray shirt he started school in January instead of August. So contrary to what many people think, he completed 4 years at SMU- it’s tricky, I know). Immediately after graduation he went off to IMG in Florida and trained his big ole butt off for the combine. Here’s a couple things most people don’t know about Zach (football wise)…yes he played football at a small, private D1 school but he was a BEAST. Not even going to try to claim this as a humble brag, I’m straight up bragging. He finished his NCAA career as a running back (he didn’t play fullback in college) with 4,185 rushing yards and 47 touchdowns (wish it could’ve been 48, dammit). To put college stats into perspective for you, Eric Dickerson and Zach tied for number of touchdowns, he was second behind Dickerson for career rushing yards and Zach beat him for all-purpose yards. Yes, Eric freaking Dickerson who rushed for an NFL record setting 2,145 yards in 1984 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame….Zach’s name is listed above his in the SMU record books. THATS. SO. COOL. With preseason honors galore, he was also the 11th athlete is school history to earn all-league honors three years in a row, the league’s leading rusher in 2010 & 2011, and he was Offensive Player of the Year of CUSA in 2012. He tore the tendon that connects to your big toe aka the ACL of the foot (which was one of the more major injuries he’s had in his career) but he finished the game. No one even knew he was hurt until we saw him after the game with a boot on…BADASS. Due to that, he missed the last three games of the season but still ranked seventh in the nation in rushing at 122.4 yards per game.
Combine day came. Food poisoning struck. That happened…we moved on. Draft day came…and then it went. Day two…done. Day three…WHAT IS HAPPENING. Literally, most stressful day of my whole life. Let me preface this a little bit. I had come to a crossroads where I had to choose a path for my life. Ok, that’s a bit dramatic but I didn’t add 4 sets of ellipsis above just for fun. I was asked by my coach (I was a rower on scholarship at SMU) to choose between being with Zach in MI for the draft or my team. He wasn’t going to allow me, who was still recovering from the second hip surgery of my rowing career and not racing or practicing, to go out of town for one weekend to support my person through a potentially life changing event. I remember so specifically sitting in his office having this conversation and he said to me, “What if in two months you guys break up?”. Of course, he was insinuating that I was making a mistake by choosing Zach over rowing & my teammates. I felt extremely selfish and torn over my decision but I had to go with my gut. I responded back to him with “What if we get married and I missed this moment with him?” Not even two weeks later we were engaged, so ya, I made the right choice.
Back to draft day. We both learned a lot that day I think. It was definitely a humbling experience. Not like Zach thought he was going to go first round or anything, but when people/ media are in your ear telling you one thing it’s hard to not start believing it. We definitely thought the later rounds were possibilities and as they passed by the disappointment started to set in. A couple of phone calls here and there, one specifically saying “Hey we’re taking you as our next pick, hang tight” and then they took a completely different guy. It’s CRAZY, let me tell you. Makes me laugh when guys who are drafted high tweet right after saying they have a chip on their shoulder. Like ok, sorry you got picked 3rd and not 1st *cue world’s smallest violin*. Perspective is such a funny thing.
The draft ended and Zach’s phone blew up. His agent & 7 other teams were calling to snag him as an undrafted free agent. Luckily, Zach has a great agent (shoutout Mike McCartney) who is super up front and honest with him. He kept him in the loop and helped him make the best choice for him and his future career. Zach pulled me out into the garage of his parent’s house and explained to me all the options that him and Mike had discussed and then asked me where I wanted to live. I was shocked by that question! Who asks that?! I love that man, he has always put me first and that moment was a huge testament to that. He ended up choosing the Vikings and it was an extremely emotional time. Not only did my boyfriend just get land himself a NFL contract but it was to the team my late father had been a die hard fan of since he was a little boy *tears*. I was so damn proud of him. He had made it. He did it. But little did I know that the fight for roster spot had only started.
A week after the draft Zach proposed to me on my 21st birthday after completing rookie mini camp. So many exciting and great things were on the horizon and I knew that no matter what happened we’d be good. We had each other & that was truly all that mattered, still does. He worked his ass off, scored a 69 yard touchdown his very first touch in a NFL game ever *ugly tears* and made the team (not as simply as stated, but you get the gist). HE WAS ON THE ROSTER. #48 FULLBACK ZACH LINE. It was crazy, emotional and a for real “pinch me” moment. I could talk for days about everything that happened in the 4 years that we were in MN but I won’t because you would never read my blog again due to boredom, I’m sure of it. He was cut once in the very beginning, stashed away on practice squad for a hot minute (literally a weekend) and then brought right back up where he stayed ever since. There’s so many crazy, yet creative ways teams can get their way with things, fortunately it had always worked in Zach’s favor. Not because he was lucky but because he had EARNED it.
What I wish people knew about our life who aren’t in the NFL world is how hard it really is. You’re never safe. Job security? HA! Majority of the guys are “on the bubble” players contrary to what you may think. Not everyone is a Tom Brady, am I right? We’re incredibly blessed to be in the position that we are, but it’s not a cake walk. Every August the time comes for Zach to report to camp where he fights for his job everyday. Finally, final roster will come out at the end of preseason but we’re still never “safe”.
Four years is a long time for an UDFA to be around but now that we’re faced with football potentially not being an option this fall it doesn’t seem like enough! Free agency has been a roller coaster of emotions. In the beginning I was so focused on our new baby (I’ll talk about life with 2 under two, being a new mom and my pregnanies in my next post) that I barely even thought of it. Zach rehabbed and I took care of our young children/our home and that was our life. I just figured a call would come and that would be it.
A call did come and I let my guard down as he traveled to go do his visit (as he was only a few months out from surgery and not cleared for workouts yet). I was checking out the area online for houses, making plans, etc. DUMB. They loved him & wanted him and even sent him home with a huge bag FULL of gear for him and the whole family. Shockingly to us, Zach landed back in MI with news that they couldn’t sign him because their doctor wouldn’t clear him. Well, DUH. He was just fresh from surgery. I felt played & I’m sure Zach did too. Lesson #1 in the business of free agency: don’t count on anything until it’s in ink. Words pretty much mean nothing.
A few months went by (felt like years) and all of a sudden two teams called and wanted him to come workout. It was SO exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. It’s weird, he would get a text from his agent with something the teams had said (which is usually pretty short and to the point) and then we wouldn’t hear from the teams for a while. Even right after one of his workouts, he got awesome responses while he was there but then came home and heard one thing. It was positive, but again…just a few words. NFL, the No Feedback League.
I’m already a super emotionally charged person so when you add in the hormones that come with being postpartum/nursing BOOM you’ve got one crazy lady on your hands. Poor Zach. These past few months of free agency have been a huge learning experience for me in a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how unhealthy my ways of coping with stress are. I found myself turning into a super negative person and I wasn’t a fan of who I was becoming. It’s hard to find your identity as a football wife sometimes. You kind of get lost in that world. Add a couple kids to the mix and my name had been permanently changed to Zach’s wife/Blake & Charley’s mom. McKenzie who? Honestly, it wasn’t until I decided to start this blog and really go for it that I found my own voice again. So, thank you, for supporting me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for our life and for our children. Not only that, I’m grateful for this experience as well. It’s allowed us to do a lot self reflection and given us the opportunity to work on having more patience, humility and composure (mostly me-Zach’s married to me so patience was a pre requistate). I pray to have more of those qualities daily so maybe this is a test for me? I might be failing, but at least I’m learning from it.
It’s now August and training camp is in full swing. My husband is still here by my side instead of in his dorm room and I’m embracing it. I’m choosing now to see the positives instead of negatives, like the extra quality time we haven’t had since we’ve been married, an extra set of helping hands with raising our children, etc. Those feelings of jealousy and bitterness I was having while scrolling through my Instagram feed and seeing all the camp posts are no longer. I’m raising two young girls, shouldn’t I hold myself accountable to the standards that I will hold them to when their older? “Never do the envy, jealousy and insecure stuff. Be the hustler, the well-wisher & the go getter” Life is so much more than football and I’m beyond lucky to be right where I am. With that being said, don’t count us out just yet. Our story is far from over.