The average lifespan of an NFL career is short, and many players are caught in limbo after their days on the field are through. However, one member of the Detroit Lions is taking steps to ensure that his future is promising.
His teammates don’t call Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner “Doc” for nothing. No, the former undrafted free agent signee has rightly earned his nickname through his pursuit of a career in medicine after his playing days conclude. Until that time, he has a chance to remain a contributor for the team that took a flier on him back in 2015.
After an impressive career at South Dakota State, Zenner did not hear his name called on draft day in 2015. The Lions signed him to a three-year deal, primarily to serve as training camp competition for incumbent running backs Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, and incoming rookie Ameer Abdullah. Fast forward nearly four years, and Bell is out of the league, Abdullah is battling to remain with the Minnesota Vikings, and Riddick is no guarantee to stick with the Lions for 2019.
Yet Zenner has stuck with the team, and while he has no plans to hang up the cleats anytime soon, he intends to follow his other dream of a career in medicine upon the end of his NFL days. Zenner took the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) as a senior in college, and was accepted to South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, but deferred his enrollment when he was first signed by the Lions.
He has continued his deferments every year since, as he has maintained a role with Detroit. He is a valuable special teams player and has also contributed as a ball carrier when he has been called upon.
After returning from a back injury, Zenner ran for 265 yards on just 55 carries in the final eight games of 2018. This production was especially valuable in the absence of starting running back Kerryon Johnson lost to a season-ending knee injury during a Week 11 win over the Carolina Panthers.
With a growing family, Zenner recognized the importance of planning for his future. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, Zenner touched on the importance of being able to provide for his loved ones after football:
"“I have two children. My 15-month-old, my wife says, eats like a first-grader. We’re going to need to keep working or do something. For what I feel like I need to do to provide for my family, if my career were to end today, I’m 27.”"
That something would likely be in the medical field, meaning he would need to retake the MCAT. He did this spring and registered an excellent score. Yet, if he continues to produce for the Lions, he may not have to make the transition anytime soon.
Zenner signed a one-year deal with Detroit this offseason. He will compete with several veterans and some young players for snaps behind Johnson. While his chances of making the roster for 2019 are strong, nothing is guaranteed. As such, “Doc” seems determined to avoid the difficulties of post-NFL life that have befallen so many in the past.