Trivia time: which former FCS star compiled 7,457 total yards and 69 touchdowns in four years at a school in the Dakotas? Most NFL fans would say Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, and that wouldn’t be a bad guess. The North Dakota State product threw and ran for a combined 6,143 yards and 58 touchdowns in his career as a Bison. Lions fans, however, knew all along that the answer was Detroit running back Zach Zenner. Despite an illustrious career at rival South Dakota State, in which he ran for over 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, Zenner surprisingly went undrafted in 2015. This was despite the fact that his final three seasons (6,078 yards total) were more productive than those of Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon (4,817), who wound up being selected with the fifteenth overall pick in that draft. Oh, and they still wound up averaging the same YPC (3.5) in their first NFL seasons.
Last year’s preseason darling, Zenner saw his rookie campaign cut short in week 6 against the Bears when he sustained a collapsed lung and several broken ribs. Before that though, he had showed promise, during both exhibition and regular season games. It was unfortunate to see him go down before he really hit his stride. With the departure of hometown hero Joique Bell, many are anticipating Zenner, who has become something of a fan favorite himself, to bounce back and contend for a bigger role in the offense moving forward. As Joique himself declared last preseason, “We got a steal in Zenner.”
A Minnesota native, Zenner attended Eagan High School and was a multi-sport athlete, playing baseball and football. He was a finalist for the Minnesota Mr. Football Award his senior year, in which he compiled 1,303 total yards and 17 total touchdowns. He also earned Academic All-State honors. His success on and off the field continued at South Dakota State, where he broke FCS records and made three Capital One All-American teams.
Zenner Outside the NFL
Zenner’s devotion to academics is well documented. A pre-med/biology major at South Dakota State, he hopes to one day become a surgeon after his NFL days are over. He had been accepted at the Sanford School of Medicine at South Dakota, but deferred his admission in order to pursue his NFL career. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press recently published an excellent article about his off-season efforts as part of a study at a research lab in Detroit.
That’s not all he’s been doing this off-season, though. He married his fiancée in March and moved her to Detroit. That’s a good sign that Zenner plans to be with the Lions for a while, and the fans are more than happy to have him here. We’re ready for Zenner to prove what he’s known all along – that he can run with the best of them.