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Zach Greenberg (as a Blue Bomber, until he was cut June 8), and in his University of Minnesota-Crookston uniform

By SCOTT TAYLOR
Way back, when Zach Greenberg was about to be a 13-year-old football star with the Crescentwood Grizzlies (now the Corydon Comets), his father, Al and his mom, Tara, decided to give him a big surprise at his Bar Mitzvah.

 

 

 

 


“It was really kind of cool,” Zach said. “I loved football and my dad played and so they asked (Winnipeg Blue Bombers All-Pro defensive lineman) Doug Brown to surprise me at my Bar Mitzvah. He came and signed autographs and took pictures. I was cool.”
For a short while at least (until he was cut from the team on June 8), 22-year-old long-snapper Zach Greenberg got to do something he always dreamed of doing. For three weeks he would get up every morning and drive to IG Field, park his car in the players lot, head to the Blue Bombers locker room and put on No. 97...Doug Brown’s old number.
“It was all surreal to me,” said Greenberg (when I talked to him while he was still on the team). He still seemed a little bewildered by his good fortune. “It only began to sink in after I had been in camp for a few days. I was hoping to get a chance to play pro football this year, but when I didn’t get a call before training camp, I came home from school and got a job working in political operations for the PC Party of Manitoba. I was going to get into the gym and work hard all winter and hopefully get a shot next year.
“Then, at 7 o’clock on the Friday morning before the first pre-season game, I got a call from (Bombers GM) Kyle Walters. He said to go to the stadium at 11:30 for a tryout. So, I went to the stadium and the tryout went pretty well and he said they would sign me the next day. They did and there I was. I wasn’t expecting anything this year, but there was no other call I’d rather get up to.”


Everything about Greenberg’s pro contract and mere presence in training camp might thave seemed strange to a lot of people. After all, Greenberg has always been a smallish lineman with much more brain than brawn.
His dad, Al, played at Jamestown College and the University of Manitoba and was the 1993 Manitoba Jewish Athlete of the Year, but he injured his knee and back in those days, that was the end of the dream.
Still, young Zach picked up his father’s love for football right away and started out playing Terminator (often called “the bobble heads” – little kids in big helmets bouncing around the field) at Crescentwood Community Club. He played all his minor football with the Grizzlies and moved up to the Grant Park High School Pirates in Grade 9. At Grant Park, he was one of head coach Doug Kovacs’ favourites.
“He was the best, a team captain and a huge force at defensive end,” said Kovacs. “He was also a great long snapper and he really worked on his craft.”
Greenberg played D-line and tight end at Grant Park, but when he graduated, he was barely 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds so, as good as he was, there were no big schools lining up to acquire his services. So, Zach chose to play at Division II University of Minnesota-Crookston.
“When I got there, the position of long snapper had only recently become specialized,” said Greenberg, who is still a little undersized at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds. “When I got to Crookston, I knew I wasn’t going to become a pro football player as a linebacker or defensive end, but I thought I could become pretty good as a long snapper.”
While at Crookston, getting his degree in Sport and Recreation Management, he was a8 star both on and off the field.


A long snapper and even at times, a short snapper, for the Golden Eagles for four seasons, he did all the snapping for punts, field goals, and extra points. But he really shone in the classroom. He was a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference All-Academic player for three seasons, and then was named to the NSIC All-Academic Team of Excellence as a senior.
He also represented the school at the Harvard Global Case Competition, created his own student podcast, was named Sport and Rec Student of the Year, served on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee with the Crookston Student Association and was a board member of the Sport and Rec Management Association.
“We didn’t have the greatest record (the Golden Eagles were 1-6 in his senior year), but the school was outstanding and it drove me to bigger and better things,” said Greenberg, who played in a conference with schools such as Minnesota-Duluth, Moorhead, Bemidji State, Minnesota State (Mankato) and St. Could State. “It kept me there for four years and I loved it. If I had a chance to do it over again, I’d choose to go to Crookston.”
Now, to be fair, it’s not like Crookston turns out a lot of pro football players. In fact, if Greenberg had stuck with the Bombers, he’d have joined former teammate Adam Connette as the only two recent Golden Eagles’ grads to sign pro contracts. To put that into perspective, Connette is in his second season competing for the Helsinki Roosters of the Vaahteraliiga, the American Football League of Finland.


Still, Crookston gave Greenberg a place to play and helped him hone his skills as a long snapper. It’s what got him a tryout with his hometown team and eventually got him a chance to wear Doug Brown’s number in an actual CFL game.
“I used to come back to Winnipeg during the summers and work for the PC Party,” he said. “So, when I came back this year and didn’t get a call inviting me to training camp, I accepted a full-time job there. I mean, I didn’t even get the call until the Bombers were seven days into training camp, so it’s still hard for me to believe that this had happened.
“And I was still getting a few hours at my political job every day because you don’t make a lot of money on a CFL rookie contract. I still would have had to supplement my income. But that’s not a complaint. I wanted to play pro football and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
He makes it very clear that he owes his success to his family – Al, Tara and his 19-year-old sister Gabi, a nursing student at the U of M.
“My dad has meant everything to me,” Zach said. “I would not be where I am today without his coaching and support. And I think my mom is my biggest fan. She’s been to practice here at training camp every single day.
“When I played in high school, I don’t believe anybody thought I’d have this opportunity one day. Nobody would ever shoot down my dream to my face, but I know there was a lot of skepticism and a lot of eyebrows were raised. So, it’s nice to prove people wrong – and to say thank you to all the people who really did believe in me.”

 

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