2020 hasn’t been easy on anyone. That might be the understatement of the decade.
In particular, the sporting world has been beset with plenty of heartache. The monotony of solo workouts has been taxing. The limits on travel have been frustrating.
The uncertainty is still daunting. Amid cancellations, postponements and general discomfort, nobody would begrudge the athletes involved a few complaints and grumblings. But nothing of the sort comes from Elkhorn South High School’s talented center, Isaac Zatechka.
“I just keep thinking about the goal I set for myself,” Zatechka said. “I want to play in college. If that’s where I want to be, this is the stuff I’ve got to do.”
He’ll have that opportunity, almost assuredly. But he’s probably gotten less attention than he deserved. A three-year starter on the varsity squad, Zatechka is among Nebraska’s elite high school o-linemen. Two of his teammates, Nebraska-commit Teddy Prochazka and fellow three-year starter Cooper Taylor, join him on that short list of talented bulldozers. And though Prochazka is the more highly sought recruit, it’s clear that his head coach thinks of Zatechka as an anchor of the offensive line.
“He’s just such a consistent, hard-working, level-headed kid,” Guy Rosenberg said. “On the offensive line, you win with reliable people. That consistency, and that consistent excellence, is just so valuable.”
Consistency is the word Rosenberg uses repeatedly, at least a dozen times in a 10-minute conversation. Zatechka is steady, smart and physical. It’s exactly what a center should be. In Elkhorn South’s motion-heavy, timing-driven shotgun offense, the snap can’t be errant. Zatechka has been playing center virtually his whole career. He can’t remember making a poor snap during his junior season. He knows what he’s doing.
And a little pedigree doesn’t hurt, either. If his last name rings a bell — and it should do more for those who were around for the glory days of Cornhusker football — there’s a good reason. Zatechka’s father, Jon, and uncle, Rob, were standout offensive linemen for the University of Nebraska during the national championship seasons in the 1990s. More than feeling pressured to live up to some standard — imagined or real — Zatechka said he has felt fortunate to have those mentors in his family.
“My dad has always just allowed me to do what I love,” Zatechka said. “I love football, and that’s why I’m playing it. He’s supported me through everything I do.”
Zatechka has had to lean on them heavily during the 2020 spring and summer. He was poised to make moves up the rankings this year by attending camps and workouts for various colleges, what he calls a “visiting circuit.” But all of that was cut to ribbons by a global pandemic that halted travel and large gatherings. He made it to one Junior Day visit at South Dakota State. His other six planned visits were nixed.
Instead of hanging his head, Zatechka got back to work. He did camp drills in his backyard, 10-yard shuttles, three-cone drill, and L-drills, making videos of his workouts to send around the country all the while. His father and uncle helped him break down his tapes and hone his technique. He lifted weights at home and got himself ready.
“That’s his mindset,” Rosenberg said. “He’s always working. He’s always grinding.”
Zatechka is also a defender for Elkhorn’s club lacrosse team, a sport he picked up in fifth grade at the urging of a friend. The footwork and coordination required for lacrosse is evident in the way Zatechka plays football. He’s not a lumbering stiff by any means. “It’s another way to compete,” Zatechka said.
Check out my regular season highlights – https://t.co/LmHDyRMk67
— Isaac Zatechka (@isaacjzat) November 18, 2019
With looks from a couple of Ivy League programs as well as an offer from Montana State and several Division II schools, Zatechka will certainly have an opportunity to play in college. Without camps and off-season visits, his senior season film might be the lynchpin to his future. It’s a season he’s not taking for granted.
“It’s made me think about just how fast high school goes by,” Zatechka said. “I’m just glad we get to play.”
There’s a cliched saying that applies here. “Timing is everything.” The year hasn’t gone according to schedule. Everything is off by a beat or cancelled altogether. It seems hardly anything is happening when it should. In any other year, Zatechka might already hold a dream scholarship offer. He might already be committed somewhere.
But that’s not 2020. For now, Zatechka will line up every Friday night in the middle of the Elkhorn South offense. He’ll make the right line calls. He’ll get to the right spot. He’ll snap the ball, almost effortlessly, to its necessary spot.
For the rest of the world, 2020 has thrown time into a flux. For Elkhorn South’s offense, Zatechka keeps the clock ticking. Consistently.
Catch Isaac Zatechka and the rest of the Elkhorn South team this Friday night as they host Millard South at 7:00 pm CT. Free on YurView Omaha (Cox Ch. 13) or the Cox Contour App. A live stream is available for only $7.50.