Former Rebel now leader at UMDNate Zuk, a 2008 graduate of the vaunted Moose Lake-Willow River football program, is a co-captain for the UMD Bulldog football team this fall, and heads into this weekend’s homecoming clash with St. Cloud State as a member of the nation’s 11th-ranked Division II football team.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
Nate Zuk believes he can count the number of losing football games he’s played in since his sophomore year in high school on his fingers.
The fifth-year University of Minnesota Duluth senior, a 2008 graduate of the vaunted Moose Lake-Willow River football program, is a co-captain for the UMD Bulldog football team this fall, and heads into this weekend’s homecoming clash with St. Cloud State as a member of the nation’s 11th-ranked Division II football team.
“Being elected captain by my teammates is great,” Zuk said this week. “All the work you put in over the years and overcoming challenges really pays off.”
Zuk has had his share of challenges. As a redshirt freshman in UMD’s national championship season of 2010, he dealt with two knee injuries that robbed him of playing time.
“Nate has been a staple of our program,” UMD Coach Curt Wiese said. “He’s had injury issues, but the one thing he never let it do was get him down. He didn’t let it affect the rest of his teammates. He’s a hard-nosed football player and a hard-nosed kid. Nate is the kind of player that when he walks into a room he makes sure everyone else around him rises to the occasion.”
The injuries are behind him now, though, and Zuk relishes the chance to get out on the field and lead his teammates.
“Being given an opportunity to lead is something anyone should take to heart,” he said. “People look up to you to make the right decisions on and off the field.”
Zuk, a linebacker, is part of a deep and talented UMD front seven that leads the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in rush defense.
But before that, he was a member of Dave Louzek’s Rebels.
“Coach Louzek does a great job with that program, he started when I was in elementary school, doing the little things right,” Zuk said. “He keeps the kids ready to go and excited. Kids are excited to play from elementary school.”
That led to a pattern of Rebel success that has fit in well at UMD, which appeals to the Bulldogs as well.
“Every year,” Wiese said, “there are ebbs and flows in high school football but each year Coach Louzek gets the kids out to play football who should be playing football. It’s become a tradition and an expectation at Moose Lake-Willow River that boys play high school football. Success breeds success.
“We have a few of those players,” Wiese added, “but Nate has brought an expectation. His expectation is that when he walks onto the football field, he’s going to beat you.”
Modestly, Zuk concurred.
“I agree with him,” Zuk said. “From high school and four years at UMD, you can count the losses on two hands. We take a loss to heart. You have to keep getting after it.”
And “getting after it” is exactly what a football senior wants to do as he chases Division II football’s ultimate goal.
“Anyone would love to go back to Florence (Alabama, site of the national championship game), but right now we are trying to go 1-0 every week,” Zuk said. “It’s not 15-0 or 12-0, it’s going 1-0 each week and it’s about adding up.”
“We’ve been fortunate to have Nate Zuk for five years,” Wiese said. “A lot of players would have given up, but that was never his attitude regardless of what was happening to him.”