By Phil Stacey
---- — For all of his athletic talent, Zac Cuzner wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue his athletic career in college.
The Marblehead High three-sport standout knew he had to prioritize academics at the next level, and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to juggle his schoolwork with the rigors of college sports or the wear and tear it would take on his body for four more years.
So he turned to one of his biggest influences — his older brother, Tony — and found his answer.
“Tony was a great goaltender at Marblehead High and helped win a state championship (in 2011),” said the younger Cuzner. “He’s at the University of New Hampshire now and loves it, but he told me his one regret is that he wishes he could still play. He said, ‘Being an athlete is something special, and if you don’t take the opportunity to continue to play the sport you love, you’ll regret it.’ That made me want to play more and more.”
Cuzner heeded his sibling’s advice — and Wesleyan University is certainly glad that he did.
The 18-year-old defensive back will attend the Middletown, Conn. based institution starting this fall, where he’ll not only get the education he craved but also continue his gridirion career with the Cardinal.
“When I was younger, I used to write that I wanted to play college football in Division 1,” said Cuzner. “But at this level, I’m just grateful that I’m getting the chance to play. I get to play it for four more years.”
A hockey defenseman in the winter and a senior captain for the lacrosse team, where he patrols the midfield, Cuzner first drew the eye of Wesleyan’s football staff during a camp at Holy Cross last summer. “From that first time we talked, they’ve always made me feel at home,” he said.
A high honors student, Cuzner was looking at other New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools such as Bates, Bowdoin, Hamilton and Trinity, but never forgot the good vibes he got from Wesleyan. He went to a combine there, then an official visit, and made two more trips before deciding it was where he wanted to make his home for the next four years.
“I recently went down there again to talk to the coaches, and they gave me a playbook and I watched some film,” said the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Cuzner, who projects as a cornerback for the Cardinal.
“I’m getting used to their defensive scheme and I feel like the coaches know me pretty well; they like my size at (cornerback). I’ve also talked to some of the guys on the team and have their phone numbers. I’m really looking forward to the whole thing.”
As he is with all of his players who wish to continue playing at the next level, Cuzner said that Marblehead head coach Jim Rudloff was instrumental in helping him get his name out there. His position coaches, Tom Walsh and Gavin Softic, were also huge in his improvement as a player and “were more like friends than coaches to me”, said Cuzner.
Hoping to study economics at Wesleyan, Cuzner battled through injuries to play every game of his senior season of football. A strained MCL (which happened when a student fell on him during gym class, buckling his knee) and an ankle sprain ensured that Cuzner wasn’t 100 percent until late in the season, but he never let the discomfort show. He wore a knee brace and “fought through the pain to keep playing” his final season with the Magicians.
“I didn’t want to miss anything,” he said.
Now, 153 miles from his hometown, he’ll get the chance to keep living out his dream for another four years.