Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - South Dakota State University running back Zach Zenner believes playing against rival North Dakota State, the pre- eminent national power in the FCS, to be a privilege.
"You put yourself up against the best, you can see where you stack up," he said. "Not every team gets to face the best team in the country and see where they are. We have that opportunity every year."
The North Dakota State Bison, and many other teams, likely feel the same way about Zenner.
Zenner concluded his senior season by surpassing 2,000 rushing yards for the third time, which had never occurred before in NCAA Division I history. Add in the three-time All-American's 3.86 grade point average, and the numbers are especially mind-boggling for the inaugural recipient of the Mickey Charles Award, which honors academic achievement by an FCS student-athlete.
Zenner will be honored Monday night at The Sports Network FCS Awards Banquet and Presentation along with the winners of the Walter Payton Award (FCS outstanding player), Buck Buchanan Award (FCS outstanding defensive player), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman of the Year) and Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year).
The Mickey Charles Award is named for the CEO and President of The Sports Network. He recognized the need for national coverage of the FCS (formerly Division I-AA college football) before he created the FCS Awards in 1987.
All Zenner has done in his glorious career is win awards, and lots of games for South Dakota State.
The three-time Walter Payton Award finalist set Missouri Valley Football Conference career records for rushing yards (6,548), all-purpose yards (8,211), rushing touchdowns (61) and total touchdowns (69). He also set the conference's single-season records with 2,044 rushing yards in 2012 and 2,350 all-purpose yards this year.
The biology/pre-medicine major from Eagan, Minnesota, was one of only four FCS players to be named to the 2014 National Football Foundation National Scholar- Athlete Class. He may go to medical school next year unless he's playing in the NFL, which is a distinct possibility.
"He is an inspiration to his teammates and all FCS student-athletes," MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito said, "as he has clearly demonstrated throughout his collegiate career that, with passion and commitment, outstanding achievement in both athletics and academics is attainable."
Zenner, a two-time team captain, is the president of SDSU's Student-Athlete Advisory Council which works as a liaison between the administration and its student-athletes; is a member of the university's Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and went on a mission trip to Jamaica last spring break to build hurricane-proof homes and spread Christianity; and volunteers to be part of food and toy raising projects for the Brookings, South Dakota, community.
"I've been blessed to be a part of a number of great teams and underneath a great coaching staff," Zenner said. "What I've tried to do during my time here is just take advantage of the opportunities that South Dakota State presented me with both athletically and academically."