Each week we will feature a college football player who is either a member or an officer in a Uplifting Athletes Chapter for our Beyond the Trophy series.
Name: Zachary Pedersen
College: University of Illinois
Height, weight, class, position: 6-2, 230 pounds, senior, long snapper
High School: Joliet Catholic Academy, Joliet, Illinois
About Zak Pedersen: A former walk-on for the Fighting Illini, Pedersen is the President of the Uplifting Athletes Chapter in Champaign. A fifth-year senior, Zak handled all the long-snapping duties for each of the 13 games the last two seasons. He is credited with playing a key role in each kicker having career years in 2010. He was a long snapper on guard on the Joliet Catholic team that won the 2007 IHSA 6A state title.
As a player, what is your favorite part of game day you get to experience at your home stadium?
Pedersen: My favorite part of game day at Memorial Stadium is when, after a win, we celebrate with the band in the stands. Our band is great, and so supportive, that it’s awesome to go share what we did on the field with them. They get us pumped up and get the crowd behind us, and that’s such an important part of having the home field advantage. It’s our way of saying thanks.
What is your most memorable experience as a college football player?
Pedersen: Bowl games are always fun and I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to play in two and win two (Texas Bowl ’10 and Kraft Fight Hunger ’11), but my most memorable experience as a college football player was playing at Wrigley field. Staying downtown Chicago, having game day there and everyone in the city buzzing about our game was awesome. What made it even more memorable, for me, aside from Mikel’s amazing day running the ball was beating our rival Northwestern. Very sweet.
What drove you to get involved with Uplifting Athletes, and what if anything has this experience done for you?
Pedersen: I got involved with Uplifting Athltes through my friend Obi Egekeze. He started a chapter at Maryland and is working on his MBA here in Champaign, and still kicking trying to get a chance at the next level. He came to me and told me what Uplifting Athletes was all about and from the jump I was in. I love everything about it. We have a great cause in Acoustic Neuroma, which we were inspired to choose as our rare disease after my friend and former team mate Andrew Carter was diagnosed with it in 2011 after our bowl game. It’s a great thing, helping to give a voice to people who, for the most part, don’t have one.
Facebook, Twitter or neither and why?
Pedersen: I have both but enjoy Twitter much more simply because of the news updates that are on there. It serves as my morning paper.
What is the toughest team you’ve faced or regularly play and what makes them so difficult?
Pedersen: There are so many tough teams in the B1G that it’s hard to pick just one. Obviously rivalry games mean a lot to us, so Northwestern and Ohio State are always high points on our schedule. We play Indiana and Purdue, too, which are hard fought games as well, but Michigan is my favorite team to play, because I grew up watching the Maize and Blue on Saturday mornings in the fall.
What is your chosen major, and what if anything have you used from that major as a contribution to your Uplifting Athletes Chapter?
Pedersen: As an undergraduate I majored in political science and I believe that experience helped me a lot with my writing. Behind the scenes of our events, there’s a lot of coordination and communication that transpires between people, and it’s critical to not only be well spoken, but to be concise enough to get the point across and maintain interest when you’re trying to talk to people about what you’re doing.
Besides one of your teammates, name a college football player you enjoy watching?
Pedersen: There are many players in college football I enjoy watching. You’ve got the Matt Barkley’s and Kirk Cousins’ of the world that work so calmly under all the pressure, and that is very admirable to me. Being a long snapper, however, I love watching snappers; the punt is my favorite play in football. I’m close friends with Jesse Schmidt from Purdue so I like watching him, and one of my best friends from high school, Nick Clancy, plays at Boston College, so I like seeing them do well also.
Who is your favorite NFL player and why?
Pedersen: Being a big Bears fan, and a long snapper, my favorite player is Patrick Mannely. He’s the model of consistency going on his 15th year snapping in the NFL as well as being a team captain, and to top it off he’s always perfect; he inspires me to be the best I can be everyday, and perfect my craft.
What was or is the inspiration for the Rare Disease your Uplifting Athletes Chapter is raising money for to be part of the fight?
Pedersen: As I mentioned before my good friend Andrew Carter lost his opportunity to play football because of Acoustic Neuroma, so naturally it was a perfect motivation for us to pick that rare disease. It’s cool too because many of the guys on the team want to actively be to be a part of what we do because they know Andrew’s story very well.
What is your favorite road stadium to play in and why?
Pedersen: Penn State and Ohio State both have awesome fan bases and that makes it great to go play in hostile environments like those, but playing at Michigan Stadium is awesome, and when we win there it’s even better. It’s so rich in tradition and history that playing there gives you the chills.