Wins and losses are not the only important thing for football players. Tuft University went 0-8 this season, losing some very close games including an overtime defeat to Colby, but St. John’s Prep’s Zak Kline of Beverly, never regretted his decision to play for the Jumbos.
Tufts may not have been able to pick up a “W” on the field, but were definitely winners as far as community service went.
Kline, a 2008 Prep graduate, is a six-foot, 225 pound senior defensive end. He had 11 solo tackles and five assists in the six games he played this past season.
“I love football and being able to go out there every day with my teammates,” said Kline. “I made a lot of great friends, and Tufts is a place I love. At the end of the day I was able to play a sport I have always loved with people I care a lot about.
“One of the main reasons I was attracted to NESCAC schools was because so many of my Prep teammates were either playing at other schools in the league or committed to play. I it was always nice to run into old friends and talk smack. I suited up against former teammates like Marty Robledo and Griffin Cardew at Bowdoin, Kevin Davis at Bates, or Nate Cyr at Trinity.”
Kayin Cherry, a senior wide receiver from Salem and Tabor Academy, and sophomore defensive lineman James Brao of Hamilton-Wenham also played for Tufts. Kline is an English major, who went to Los Angeles for an internship last summer. After graduation he wants to work in the entertainment field as a director or producer in California.
The Tufts football team is affiliated with Team Impact, a non-profit organization that pairs up athletes with seriously ill children. Board members include former Tufts alumni Dan Kraft. Kline helped the Jumbos plan some special events for eight-year old Riley Roman of South Hadley, who had a rapidly growing cancerous brain tumor.
“Team Impact offers a great way to bring joy to sick kids and their families,” said Kline. “We had a draft day for Riley, and our guys went through some drills with him. Unfortunately, he passed away at the beginning of last summer, but his family came to our Amherst game.”
Tufts went all out with a draft day for Roman, and he signed a letter of intent to play for the Jumbos while local television cameras recorded the ceremony. Kline was the MC and New England Patriots star Rob Ninkovich was on hand. Ninkovich had met Roman when he was visiting Children’s Hospital and stayed in touch with him and his family.
Roman was given a team jersey and helmet signed by the Jumbos. Kline visited the boy in the hospital until he had to leave for LA to begin his internship. After the youngster passed away, the Jumbos never forgot him. Kline wore Roman’s Tufts jersey in pre game warm ups before carrying it onto the field and placing it on the Tufts bench at every game last fall.
“I have one semester left, and I intend to enjoy it while it lasts because the last four years have flown by, and I’m staring down the barrel now,” said Kline. “I’m going to miss football because I’ve been playing since Pop Warner, and my Mom and Dad have been there every game. I definitely thought about it coming to the end before stepping on the field for our final game.”
Kline knows his football days are behind him, but he is thinking about playing rugby, a sport he enjoyed all four years at the Prep.
“One of my rugby coaches from St. John’s Prep, Maurice Kauff, wound up coming to work at Tufts,” said Kline. “He tried to get me to play, but rugby is a fall sport. Football helped me get into Tufts so I was committed to play all four years. What a banner year this was for the Prep with the football team winning the Super Bowl and two of their guys, Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Bill O’Brien (Penn State), finishing one-two for Coach of the Year.
“I’m happy with my career both on and off the field, and honestly I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had the chance. It will be rugby for me from now on. There’s some great rugby being played in New England. I’ll have to do a lot more running, but it will keep me in shape, and you can play that sport forever.”
Jean DePlacido is a correspondent for The Salem News. Contact her at JMDeplacido@aol.com.