Q&A: Football Player Zach Johnson
-- As of 1 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 16), the game is officially a sell out and no other tickets will be available for sale. Eastern expects a capacity crowd of 10,830, but that will vary depending on how many EWU students attend.
-- Local Country musician Kelly Hughes will be performing on Saturday afternoon in the tailgate area thanks to EAA contributor & Cheney resident Dave Harris who has graciously underwritten the costs. Montana fans may tailgate south of the stadium at Sutton Park and at the EWU Red Barn parking lot.
Freshman All-Big Sky performer lost his sophomore season in 2009 because of a blood clot, but he is back playing alongside his twin brother Matt in 2010
He thought it was a cramp. But it turned out to be much scarier than that.
Eastern Washington University junior linebacker Zach Johnson had a sensational season as a freshman in 2008 with 96 tackles and a team-high seven passes broken up. Off-season knee surgery repaired his ailing knees, but in summer of 2009 he noticed what he thought was a cramp in one of his legs.
Unfortunately, it was a blood clot, and it cost him his entire sophomore season as he spent nearly half a year on blood thinners. It also cost him the opportunity of playing another season alongside his twin brother Matt, who graduated with Zach from Tumwater, Wash., High School in 2007.
But No. 10 was on the field in 2009 as it turned out. Matt wore Zach's jersey as a tribute to his sidelined sibling.
Both brothers are back together this year, and this week get to play in the inaugural game on EWU's new red Sprinturf surface versus Montana. Last year, Zach watched helplessly from the sidelines as the Grizzlies drove for the winning score with 1:18 left in a 41-34 victory in Missoula.
Zach has had six tackles and a fumble recovery in two games this season thus far, while Matt is the team's second-leading tackler with 15 to go along with a pass broken up. Matt is looking for his first interception of the season after intercepting 10 passes in his first two seasons as an Eagle to already rank eighth in school history.
Both players earned honorable mention All-Big Sky accolades in 2008, and Matt earned the same honor as a sophomore when Zach was sidelined. Matt currently has 199 career tackles heading into the Montana game.
What has it been like getting back in the swing of things after missing all of last year?
"It's been great, although I didn't feel like I was back 100 percent until about the second half of Nevada. Once that happened I felt comfortable again. It felt good to be out there with all my teammates again -- that was the big thing. It was fun."
What was the biggest adjustment that you had to make in your opener against Nevada after not playing for a year?
"I hadn't played in over a year so I was really hyped up to begin with. I didn't start playing good football until after I settled down."
Players get injured all the time, but your injury was odd. How disappointing was it to have a blood clot end your season?
"It was disappointing -- it was just a weird, freak accident. I felt like it happened for a reason like everything does. I thought sitting out that year made me a lot tougher and more resilient as a person."
Was that particularly scary compared to a normal injury?
"As soon as we found it, my mom told me go to the hospital right away. I didn't think it was anything serious, but once they found it they told me all the risks. I had never heard of that before, so once they told me it was kind of scary. I just had to watch it for six months or so. So yes, it was a lot different."
What did you think of your brother wanting to wear your number as a tribute to you?
"It meant a lot to me and I know it meant a lot to him. It was cool to see my number out there."
Did anybody ever get confused thinking you were still out on the field playing?
"I think a lot of people got confused. Now this year I'm wearing 10 again and people are already getting confused."
You and your twin brother look alike in person. Are there still people who can't tell you apart?
"Definitely, but we're used to it. If somebody says 'Matt' we usually both look around -- it's the same if somebody says 'Zach.'"
Pulled any good pranks on anybody lately?
"Not any lately. But we used to in class in high school a lot to our teachers."
Whose idea was it to change your hairstyles so people can tell you apart?
"I think it was kind of both of our ideas. Then a couple of our teammates decided not to cut their hair, so I decided to do that too. So I look a little different."
You had a great freshman year together, so how has it been to be able to finally play with your brother again?
"It's great to see him before the game and play alongside him. Last year I got to be there without pads on, but actually playing alongside him is a lot better. Being out there with my teammates is the best thing about being back. I missed the game a lot, but more than anything I missed playing with all my teammates."
Did you miss being able to play in last year's Montana game in particular?
"That was definitely rough to watch. From that moment on I've been waiting for this game right here. That's the one I had circled."
Has it been a problem this year to not look past your first two games because of the new red turf and the Montana game?
"It's hard not to, but I think our team focused well. I had surgery again last spring, so I was told I wasn't going to play until October. Personally I was hoping to get back for this game. The fact I was able to play in the first two was good just to be able to get back into the swing of things."
What would be the perfect outcome for you against Montana?
"Obviously to win, but we need to come out and play defense, offense and special teams the way we know we can. As long as we get that W that's all we are looking for."