By Denton Josey, Features Editor
Some people call him the Brett Favre of ACU intramural football.
Actually, he’s the only one who calls himself that.
To clarify, Zach Sheets makes the comparison “Because Brett Favre seems like he’s still a kid at heart, and I can identify with that.”
However, the similarities don’t stop with the heart. Like the Green Bay Packers’ longtime quarterback, Zach has been playing football since the early 1990s, and he too is still going strong, suiting up for games and leaving it all on the field.
*High school champ*
Entering his 11th season playing intramural football, Zach smiles as he explains why he’s been playing for so long.
His intramural career began in 1996 when he was a freshman. Unlike the average student, Zach didn’t graduate in four years. He didn’t even graduate in five or six. By the time he finished, eight years had gone by.
He attributes his long stay in college partially to his uncertainty over what career he wanted to pursue but also to working throughout college.
“All in all, it took five years [of classes], and I got a degree in youth and family ministry and communication.”
For the last decade, Zach has played intramural football and basketball, but he also has played five seasons of soccer, two of softball and four of club roller hockey. (“I’ve never played waterball,” he said. “The girls’ waterball is too violent; it scares me.”)
Before his intramural career, Zach played football, basketball, golf and baseball in high school. His junior year he quarterbacked Galveston’s Heritage Christian Academy to the Texas Christian Athletic League sixman state championship. By the time he made it to ACU, however, he realized he probably wouldn’t make it at the college level, unlike his father, Dr. Kyle Sheets, who played basketball for ACU in 1970.
During his first season of intramural basketball, Zach was on a team called “Meat.” He said the team would warm up to Amy Grant’s “Giggle” and throughout the game everyone on the team was required to take a half-court shot. Team Meat also liked to see how many players they could add on the court during the game. “One time we had six or seven guys play for about three minutes before they noticed. Our record was eight guys before we got a technical called on us.”
Despite the fun approach his team took that year, Zach is equally known for his competitive spirit.
Brandon Stover (’02), assistant baseball coach at ACU, played intramurals against Zach during college.
Stover said he’s known Zach forever and they are in the same life group at church.
“He’s always a competitive guy, but away from that he’s
probably the most laid back guy you’ll ever meet.”
Stover said Zach has played more intramural sports than anybody, even Larry “Satch” Sanders, a Frater Sodalis sponsor who has played football for more than 30 years.
While Sanders has certainly played more intramural football than Zach, Stover said Zach plays a larger variety of intramurals. “Zach plays everything, and he’s pretty good at every sport; he’s a little more diverse. That’s the main difference [between Zach and Sanders].”
Stover said Zach’s group of friends had a nickname for him when they played sports together.
“We called him a bunch of things, but probably White Lightning. He’s quick out there.”
Zach’s speed was challenged by his roommate of four years, Chris Riley.
Riley, associate general counsel with ACU’s Legal Services, said he and Zach were competitive in everything. One time while they were in Edwards Hall, he told Zach about his high school track career. On the spot, Zach challenged him to a race down the hall. “I killed him,” Riley said. “Guys were watching out of their doors all down the hall.”
The old roommates still play basketball together once a week. Riley describes Zach as passionate and competitive, but caring and honest as well. He thinks it is cool Zach still plays.
“I’m kinda envious, I guess. It’s good he has the time to do that and it’s a good way to stay in shape.”
A former teammate, Andy Zimmerman, resident director of McKinzie Hall, played basketball with Zach for three seasons after they met in 2001 during Zimmerman’s sophomore year.
Zimmerman said Zach can still compete, even though he is 12 years older than some of his opponents. “He’s the same [as when he began in 1996], he hasn’t lost a step. But he definitely hasn’t gained a step either.”
“If he wasn’t such a great guy, it wouldn’t be awesome – it’d be like, ‘Move on already!’, but he brings the spirit of Christ out there.”
Not only a Christ-like attitude, but good basketball skills to boot.
“He still consistently shoots 10-15 three’s a game, whether he’s open or not,” Zimmerman said. In the spirit of the intramural field named after Sanders, Zimmerman said, “I think it’d be cool to have the Zach Sheets’ Three-Point Line.”
Another aspect of Zach’s game that Zimmerman appreciates is his dedications. “He dedicates his performances to someone each game. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s not; I always thought that was funny.”
Zach is able to hang out with people of all ages because he doesn’t see age, Zimmerman said. “He’s just a dude hanging out with other dudes.”
Sometimes Zimmerman sees Zach at intramural games, even when he isn’t playing. “He just shows up at the intramural fields. Dude loves competition. He goes to all of
Landon is Zach’s younger brother. A senior pre-med major from Muleshoe, Landon played one season of intramural football with his older brother in 2005, and their team made it to the champ league semi-finals.
“I didn’t think I’d get to be in college with him, much less play intramurals with him,” Landon said. “Normally you think you gotta be within four years, but he defied that rule.”
When they were younger, Landon said Zach included his siblings when he played sports. Landon also said Zach would make his siblings go outside and run routes for him or make them play 7-game series with him in basketball.
Though the brothers have only played together once, Landon said Zach comes to his games and watches. “It means a lot to me that he cares enough to call me and see when my games are and come watch.”
Zach also coaches intramurals, including one year with Landon as an assistant coach. The oldest of 10 children, he has coached three of his sisters’ teams in basketball and football. One year Zach roamed courtside wearing a 1970s babyblue polyester suit he found at a thrift store.
Katie Brophe played football for Zach as a freshman before she transferred to Pepperdine University. She said he was competitive and humorous in a season that lasted all the way to the championship game.
“He’s just hilarious; he took it really seriously, but he was also very funny. He would yell at us, but we would just laugh at him,” Brophe said.
Evidence of his competition, Zach looks at his hands and remarks that he has scars from intramurals. In a game during his 2003 championship season, Zach went to grab a flag and somehow got his hand tangled up in the nylon drawstring of the ball carrier. Though the string cut his hand down to the bone, Zach held on and pulled the flag. With faux intensity he says, “I wasn’t going to let him score, even if it meant sacrificing the ring finger on my right hand.”
After more than a decade of intramurals, Zach doesn’t seem to be slowing down, but he has gained more perspective than he had as a freshman. “I’m probably a little better at realizing it is intramurals, not life or death.”
Zach said he plays sports because it is fun to play as a team, and he likes hanging out with people. One of the main reasons he plays is to develop relationships, even with his own family.
“I have nine brothers and sisters coming through ACU all the time, and I like to be around kids, as I call them these days ’cause I’m 30.”
Zach also likes watching intramural sports with his wife, Kara (Brown, ’05) and sixmonth old twins, Will Cotton and Levi Blake.
Zach currently plays for the rec flag football team G-4: The Prestige as a safety, running back and receiver. The team is 5-0 heading into the playoffs.
Daniel Gambino, graduate student in higher education student affairs from San Antonio, plays on Zach’s team this year. “It’s humbling to know I’m playing alongside someone that’s a legend,” Gambino said.
“Someone who’s been in the league for 10 years can provide experiences I’ll take with me long after I leave ACU.”
He thinks Zach still has what it takes to succeed in intramural sports. “I wasn’t fortunate enough to see him in years past, but I feel like Zach has 11 more years in him.”
He mentions Zach likes to jokingly say, “I’ve got two kids to provide for!” when they’re out on the field. “He doesn’t live his life with regrets on or off of the field,” Gambino said.
Upon hearing Zach is playing again, Zimmerman likes the team’s odds.
“Their team already has the mental edge, with Zach on their team they have that,” Zimmerman said. “He’s a born winner; that’s probably why he comes back every year- he’s either avenging a previous loss or he’s still got the taste of victory in his mouth and he’s going off that.”
How long does he plan on playing? “I’d never compare myself to Satch, but if Will and Levi want me to play on their team, I will.”
Speculating on how long Zach will keep playing, Landon shrugs and says he doesn’t see a reason to hang up the cleats or sneakers as long as he finds a team to pick him up.
“I guess when you’re a legend, how do you not get picked up?”
Estimating his team’s chances this year, Zach puts on a mockingly-serious face. “I’ll guarantee a victory- maybe not this year, but eventually.”