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TOP: Alpena senior Zach Nash talks with wide receiver Tim Atkinson (8) during a football game against Petoskey at Wildcat Stadium last Friday. Nash injured his arm in early August and was forced to miss the entire season. Though he’s not playing, Nash has become the Wildcats’ emotional leader and leads the team in warm-ups and helps with linebacking drills. BOTTOM: Nash reaches out to tackle a Traverse City Central player during a game last season. Nash recorded 71 tackles last year and was set to play as a linebacker and fullback for the Wildcats this season.
Zach Nash has gotten a different perspective on football this season than the one he's used to.
As Alpena suits up and takes the field on Friday night in its season finale against Ogemaw Heights, Nash will be there on the sideline, getting his teammates fired up and carrying a clipboard, as he writes down every offensive play his team runs.
As the Wildcats have battled injuries and struggled this season, Nash has been there for all of it. But with his right arm in a brace, Nash hasn't been able to help the team on the field this season, though he wishes he could.
"I loved when we played Gaylord and all the emotion that the kids showed. But it's tough watching the kids go out there and sometimes they're struggling and I wish I could help them and be out there helping them, but I can't because I'm on the sidelines," Nash said. "All I can do is help them get pumped up before the game, at halftime, during timeouts. That's my job, I lead the team emotionally."
A preseason injury brought the harsh reality that Nash wouldn't play one down in his last year of high school football, depriving the Wildcats of one of their most experienced players and forcing Nash to become a team leader in other ways.
"You hate to see any kid hurt," Alpena coach Jason Dubey said. "Especially your senior year, you play football all the way through and here's your opportunity to play that last year and he didn't have that."
All the pieces were in place for Nash to have a stellar senior season.
He recorded 71 tackles as a junior and was ready to lead an Alpena linebacking corps that was replacing Tom Dihle, who left Alpena as the school's all-time leader in tackles last season. Nash was up for the challenge and Dubey had big plans for Nash on both sides of the ball.
"We had high hopes for him playing linebacker and maybe some fullback or play some wing for us and do a lot of different things for us," Dubey said.
Then disaster struck.
Early in the second week of practice in August, Nash went up to catch a pass during a 7-on-7 drill and came down on his outstretched arm. As soon as he got up, he knew something didn't feel right and Dubey was immediately concerned.
"Coach Dubey's face told the whole story basically. He doesn't shown a lot of emotion, but when he does, it's something big," Nash said. "The look he had on his face was very scared and you could tell he was worried."
Nash was worried too and for good reason. He had broken both the ulna and the radius in his right arm right at the point where both bones connect to the wrist. After getting it set, Nash's arm was put in a cast for seven weeks and he's slowly working to recuperate after finding out that he didn't need surgery.
Though there were some initial thoughts that Nash might be able to return for the final few weeks of football, the realization soon came that if he wanted to play hockey in the winter and baseball in the spring, he would have to sit out football season.
"It's not something I looked forward to or it's nothing that I wanted to (do), but it's something that was in my best interest," Nash said. "I love football too, but if I want to play those two sports then I have to be healthy."
Though he's not on the field, Nash has become as much a leader off the field as he would've been in uniform on it. He's been there every day in practice, running warm-ups, helping out with linebacker drills and generally making himself available to do whatever coaches ask of him.
It's also allowed Nash to get a different view of football, more than just the player's perspective he's used to.
"I help out at the position I played at and help correct little things that I can see, that when I was playing I didn't see," Nash said. "It's a different perspective and I can see a lot more and understand a lot more by watching, but I would rather be playing."
With Nash out of lineup, the Wildcats have leaned on their other linebackers including senior Chandler Bloom, junior Evan Hamp and sophomores Jordan Ferguson and Brad Styma. While it's forced younger players such as Styma and Hamp to fill important roles quickly, the Wildcats' linebacking corps has stepped up. Styma is the team's leading tackler with 64 stops and Bloom is second with 46.
Nash's presence is still felt by his teammates on game days, even though he isn't on the field.
"Even though Zach can't be there on the field, he's right there on the sideline and he's a good leader," Bloom said. "He's really good at motivating, he knows exactly what to say."
Dubey said Nash's injury initially hurt the Wildcats' psyche, but now Nash has become a role model and a strong leader for Alpena to rally around.
"My experience is the best when your best leader is one of your best kids and your athletic kids and one of your best players; that really brings a lot to it," Dubey said. "You have some guys that are vocal leaders and some guys that will just lead by example. He's definitely one of those guys that's been a vocal leader and leads by example."
Nash has been in a brace for about a week and a half and goes back to the doctor in early November to check his progress. With hockey tryouts soon, Nash hopes to return to playing sports, but there isn't an exact date for when he'll be ready to go.
"(I) take it slow, take it day-by-day and whenever I feel good, (which means) when I get my range of motion, my strength back, is probably when I'll be back." Nash said.
When he does return, Nash will have his other two sports to look forward to. He was a captain on the hockey team last year and a catcher and outfielder for Alpena's baseball team.
Even though he's taken on a different role this season than the one he was expecting, Nash has embraced it and found a way to contribute as a leader during a tough season.
"I feel like even though I can't play I'm still the leader out here. I'm still getting everyone motivated, leading the team on and off the field," Nash said. "It would be different if I was out there playing, but since I can't play, I have to find different ways to be a leader and I think I did a good job."