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May 01, 2013 - Zach Line began his football career as a Wildcat. Then he became a Mustang.

Now, he's officially a Viking.

On Saturday, April 27, the 2008 Oxford High School graduate signed a three-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent.

"It's awesome," said Line, 23. "It's every football player's dream. Going to a team like Minnesota, it's a blessing. They've got a great backfield I'm going to be learning from."

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"It's very exciting for all of us," said his father Joe Line, of Oxford. "For Zach, it's great. He gets to continue the dream and try to fulfill his life's goal as it relates to his sport."

"It's a hell of thing for him to do," said Oxford Football Coach Bud Rowley. "He wasn't recruited very highly, but he went down there (to Southern Methodist University in Texas) and had a storied career. Now, he's in the NFL, he's in the league. And that really says a lot about Zach Line as a person, as a football player and as a young man. I'm really, really proud of him."

Players who are not drafted in the National Football League's annual draft of amateur players are considered unrestricted free agents and as such, are free to sign contracts with any team they wish.

In addition to the Vikings, Line was courted by five other NFL teams including the Tennesee Titans, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints.

"He had an opportunity to speak with the coach at Minnesota (Monday) and they're ecstatic to have him at this point in time," Joe said.

So why did Line choose Minnesota?

"I thought I had a good opportunity at Minnesota," said Line, who honestly had no NFL dreams when he began playing football for "fun" in the seventh grade. "Besides, (running backs) Toby (Gerhart) and Adrian Peterson, they didn't really have as much depth as I thought. I thought that would be my best fit to work into a spot."

Joe agreed.

"Based upon where Minnesota was at with their current running back representation – with Adrian Peterson being 28 (years old) and Toby Gerhart being in the last year of his contract and being 26 (years old) – this may be an opportunity or Zach," he said. "I think he felt that (Minnesota) would be his best opportunity to make the roster."

It also didn't hurt that Line's girlfriend's family "are all Vikings' fans."

Just because he signed with an NFL team doesn't mean Line has a home in the pros yet.

Like any other potential player, Line must still prove his value to the team in camps and practices in order for his name to be added to the 53-man roster.

"I don't have any doubt that I'm going to make the roster because now we're back to football," he said. "I'm a football player and now, we're back to football, which is what I do best."

When asked what he thinks his son's chances are of being one of those 53 Vikings who will take the field this fall, Joe, who admitted he has a "very biased opinion," said, "I think they're exceedingly high."

"His work ethic and discipline, I think, without question, are going to serve him well," he said. "I think he's got that opportunity to make the roster because of his special teams expertise and obviously, his versatility.

"Being a good-size running back who happened to run for a couple yards through college and then of course, the fact that he can also serve as a fullback and a special teams (player), I think is going to increase his value based upon his collective versatility."

Despite his absolute confidence in his son's abilities, Joe admitted this whole situation continues to be a "nerve-racking" process.

"I don't know that you're ever really safe in the NFL," he said.

Rowley has no doubt that Line will be on that 53-man roster.

"He'll get there," he said. "He'll bust his butt and he'll do what he's got to do. I just think the kid's going to make it . . . I think he can play on the special teams because he's fast enough, big enough and strong enough. I think he'll hook on as a third-down back, a blocking back, and (on) special teams."

"He doesn't ever give up," Rowley noted. "He has great confidence in his ability. He just believes in Zach Line and it doesn't make any difference what the odds are against him, he's going to make it, he's going to win and be successful."

Prior to signing with the Vikings, Line, who's 6-1 and weighs 232 pounds, had quite the career as a running back for the SMU Mustangs.

He was named to the Conference USA first-team three years in a row and was the conference's offensive player of the year for 2012. Line is only the 11th player in SMU history to earn first-team all-league honors three times.

"He had a very decorated (college) career," Joe said.

During his time at SMU, he racked up 4,185 rushing yards, plus approximately 600 receiving yards. He surpassed NFL Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson's SMU record for total yardage.

Line is the only Mustang to amass three 1,200-yard seasons. During his senior season, he carried the ball 277 times for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns.

While playing for SMU, Line scored 47 touchdowns, tieing the school's record for the most rushing touchdowns, also set by Dickerson.

His record as an Oxford Wildcat was also very impressive.

Wearing the blue and gold, Line rushed for 1,723 yards and scored 17 touchdowns during his senior year and earned all-state honors. Playing defense as well during his senior season, he had 154 tackles, eight forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

In 2008, he won Oxford's coveted George Prince award, an honor reserved for the best male athlete of his class.

When asked if he was surprised his son wasn't drafted by an NFL team given his college record and potential, Joe replied, "That would be a really, really big understatement – (I'm) still digesting that pill."

Based on discussions with "a handful of good agents," Joe said none of them "suggested that Zach should go anywhere past the fourth round, maybe early in the fifth round."

"We just never expected that not being drafted would have been an option," he continued. "Obviously, (being an undrafted free agent) wasn't his first choice. He wanted to hear his name be called and all that good stuff."

But Joe gives his son "a lot of credit" for how he handled the situation.

"He probably showed more poise and maturity than I did," he said. "I was frustrated because I just felt that he was under-appreciated based upon what he accomplished in his (college) career."

Joe explained that's nothing new because as a high school player, his son was overlooked by Michigan colleges.

He said his son has spent his sports career "being under-appreciated and proving people wrong."

Line seemed to take not being drafted in stride. "I kind of went through the same deal in high school with not being recruited very heavily, so I've been there before and I was just hoping it wasn't going to happen again. I had a feeling that it might," he said. "It's more of a pride thing than anything, but it was also kind of nice, with six teams (courting me) in the end, being able to make my decision on where I wanted to go."

Joe noted it wasn't a good year for running backs in the NFL draft, period.

"There weren't a whole lot of running backs and quarterbacks to be picked to begin with," he said. "It was a tough year to be a running back and quarterback in the draft because there just wasn't a premium on them like there was last year."

"It was the first time since, I think, 1967 that no running back went in the first round," Joe added. "There just wasn't a whole lot of activity for running backs and quarterbacks as a whole.

"(There) seemed to be a great focus this year on linemen, which is interesting because last year, they had four or five running backs go in the first round. It's just one of those years where (running backs were) not where the need was for a lot of teams."

Rowley sees not getting drafted as a positive for Line because it's going to give him that "edge" of having something to prove.

"He's got the attitude and that's going to help him," he said. "That's good."

"Obviously, you're going in there with a chip on your shoulder because you weren't drafted and you feel like you should have (been)," Line said. "But really, I'm just going to try to put the draft behind me, move on and play football . . . I'm a pretty calm and collected player, so I'll just continue to play the way I play and things (will) continue to work out."

Line believes "everything takes care of itself" if he just focuses on the things he needs to do and the things he's supposed to do.

Joe admitted the whole NFL process has been a "bittersweet" situation for him.

"While there shouldn't be any bitter in it, you feel like you wanted your kid to get drafted because of the excitement of that, but I think at the end of the day, he's on an NFL team and he's continuing his dream, so that's exciting," he said.

Line noted he's very grateful to Coach Rowley for helping him build his "mental toughness" early on his career.

"You can teach skill and technique, but when you're building mental toughness at a young age, it's huge," he said.

Line will never forget the day Rowley told him, "Great players never take a play off."

"Through college that carried me through the tough games and the tough practices," he said. "If I wanted to be a great player, I could never take a play off. It's cliche, but it's actually something that stuck in my head."

Rowley said he can't take credit for the type of player Zach Line is.

"Guys like that, you don't coach them, you just point them in the right direction and they take over," he said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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