The wait is over (NFL Draft)

Matt Baker

After the football season ended in December, Zach Strief spent the winter training hectically, hustling at the NFL Scouting Combine and hunting for an agent to boost his shot at the NFL.

But when the combine and workouts whizzed by faster than a 40-yard dash, Strief turned to the next phase of the draft process.


With teams telling him before the draft that he could have been picked as early as the second round, the wait became intense as his family watched the draft last weekend.

“I was more surprised than disappointed,” Strief said. “I always knew that could happen. It’s a good thing now because I did slip a lot more than expected, but that’s part of the draft.”

Though the suspense lingered, Strief’s wait came to an end Sunday afternoon when the New Orleans Saints drafted him in the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

Strief said his draft stock could have stumbled because of teams’ focus on vertical leap heights, weight-lifting reps and sprint times.

But his spiral to the second day fuels his desire to excel.

“I’m going to bring that chip on my shoulder,” Strief said. “Proving people wrong is something I’ve had to do every step of the way.”

“I want people to go back and think ‘Man, it’s amazing he slipped that far.’ “

Strief only started playing football as a freshman in high school after his parents coaxed him into it, said his father, Doug.

“I don’t think he wanted to play football, but I said go out and try it just once,” the elder Strief said. “And his first year of high school, he got into some varsity games at the end of the season.”

Though the Strief’s had season tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals growing up, Zach said he never imagined he could be wearing an NFL uniform.

“One of the best things is that you spend your whole life growing up and don’t think it’s a realistic thing,” he said. “Normal people don’t do that.”

His mindset changed at Northwestern once the accolades started trickling in.

Strief was an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten tackle in 2003 and a consensus second-team choice in 2004 and 2005. The Football Writers Association of America named him a First-Team All-American as a senior.

His college credentials and 6-foot-7, 349-pound frame caught the attention of many teams, including the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dallas Cowboys called him several times Sunday to say they might draft him.

But Strief said three open spots on the Saints’ offensive line and a star-studded offense that includes Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Reggie Bush make New Orleans a great fit.

And since the new coaching staff has no ties to any of the veterans, Strief said he will battle for a starting spot, even if it means switching positions.

Strief’s work ethic, intelligence and ability to compete at a high level made him an attractive option for the Saints, said Director of Player Personnel Rick Mueller.

“He’s not always going to be pretty doing it, but this kid’s a productive player,” Mueller said at a press conference.

Though Strief, an Ohio native, rarely leaves the Midwest, he said he is looking forward to playing in New Orleans to help out a community still aching from Hurricane Katrina.

“I think it’s a really neat scenario to go into the city and really help people take their mind off of it,” Strief said. “It’s exciting to give people a moment to take their minds off of the hardships they’re going through, and I think we have a chance to do that with the talent on this team.”

Strief, who graduated with a degree in Communication Studies and Sociology in the fall, will join the Saints in New Orleans for their mini-camp in two weeks. Until then, he said he will pass the time working out and doing a lot of what he has grown accustomed to lately: waiting.

“There’s all this build-up to the draft, and those two days are as stressful as any you can imagine,” Strief said. “And then it’s like, ‘Well, we’ll see you in two weeks.’ “

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