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In the spring of his sophomore year, Zach Tyson wondered if he'd ever play football again; now in the spring of his senior year, he's just realizing he's not done playing yet. Last Wednesday, Tyson signed a letter of intent to play football for NAIA Evangel University in Springfield, Ill.
Tyson emerged from a potential career-ending injury – a fractured patella, suffered in spring football his sophomore year – to become the go-to who put Chiefland on his back in close games this year. A running back and receiver who excelled on defense, he willingly stepped up to the challenge of the quarterback position when starting QB Brent Slaughter went down with an ACL tear early this season. Tyson led the Indians to a 5-5 finish, improving on 2007's four-win season, and displayed a never-quit attitude that deeply impressed second-year head coach Ajay Ulmer.
“What Zach did for us this year was huge,” Ulmer said.
“He allowed us to have more versatility on offense as well as on defense, playing outside linebacker.”
Ulmer noted that Tyson has, in combination, very good athletic ability as well as the willingness to mentally adapt to unknown situations.
“It's great in that defensive position, because you really have to kind of feel what's going on with players you can't always see,” Ulmer said.
“Zach showed a lot of willingness to learn to do what we needed from him.”
This characteristic was part of Tyson's leadership role on the team, in which Ulmer said he not only exhorted his teammates vocally, but simply did whatever needed to be done.
“He's just the kind of guy who gives you 100 percent in practice and in the game, in the weight room or wherever – he just brought that level of maturity to our team.”
For his hard work in football and on the track – Tyson also excels at the 300 meter hurdles – the reward is a partial scholarship in both sports to this private Christian university. Tyson said playing for Evangel is a longtime dream for him both because of the fit between the school's convictions and his, and because his older brother Cory also played there.
“I visited there last week and met with the coaching staff and worked out with the team,” Tyson said.
“I was so impressed because the coaches and the team are so strong in their faith and trust in God. I really feel like it's a great fit for me.”
Evangel was only 4-6 last year, but according to the school's website, has been nationally ranked in each of the last 13 years and has won five Heart of America Conference championships. Head Coach Scott Metcalf, who was offensive coordinator when Cory Tyson played, is in his sixth year as head coach and 18th year on staff at Evangel, with a record of 31-22 as head coach.
In his campus visit, Tyson discovered the school also has a music curriculum, and had a vocal audition while he was there.
“I hope I can put together enough scholarships to really pay my way,” he said.
In addition, his performance on the grid and on the track in his first season can also boost the percentage of his scholarship. Ulmer says he thinks Tyson's attitude makes him a good candidate for success at Evangel.
“Even though he wasn't able to play for me my first year here, I saw the way he did his rehab,” he said.
“Depending on how you approach an injury, some guys never come back. I could see that he was going to put everything he had into it, and that's the kind of player I wanted on my team. I spoke with the head coach at Evangel and he liked the film he saw of Zach, and they should be able to use him right away.”
“Things really work out for players sometimes,” Ulmer continued.
“You want to go someplace where you can get in and play, but you want to be comfortable in your environment. This is a good Christian school, and I think it's a great fit for Zach.”