Nov. 16, 2005 - If Zach Abrams were a superhero dropped into the pages of Marvel Comics or annexed into the Fantastic Five, he'd need a suitable moniker.
Coaches and opponents have several nicknames for the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy's multi-talented protagonist, a driving force behind the Lions football team's charge through the Class 2A state playoffs.
"We call him 'The Wrangler,'" said Pusch Ridge head coach David Brittain about the senior defensive end. "If he gets a hand on you, he's going to bring you down."
Although lining up on both sides of the ball this season for the 2A Central Region Champion Lions, Abrams feels more at home on defense. When asked if he's scored a touchdown this season, the senior struggles to remember. And it's not due to memory lapse; he's the No. 1 ranked student in his class.
The answer is yes. Abrams, who doubles as tight end, found the end zone Oct. 7 at Miami High School, a 47-0 win for the Lions. Before the season, Brittain considered using Abrams at tailback because of his size and speed. When another speedy senior, Dallas Howell, opted to join the squad, Brittain was able to move Abrams to tight end where he hauled in five catches for 91 yards on the year.
But Abram's didn't get the nickname "the Wrangler" for catching passes. When he returned to action after missing the first four games of the year to a broken elbow, he sparked an already tough defensive unit. In six games he registered seven sacks, 27 tackles and assisted on 19 others.
In between offense and defense, he's even returned punts for the Lions this season.
Abrams' tenacity on defense is a major factor in the Lions' 10-1 record on the year. The defensive end is among a core of four seniors - defensive tackle Jose Montano, outside linebacker Daniel Thoss and quarterback Ryan Morgan - who have played all four years on varsity for Pusch Ridge.
The Lions have gone from a three-win team in 2004 to region champs in less than a year. Complimenting the core quartet this season has been 11 seniors, including another tight end David Sharp, who, like Howell, both standout baseball players, has jump-started the offense.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the super powers weren't enough in the second round of the 2A state playoffs, where Pusch Ridge ran into two-time defending state champs Phoenix Christian. The Cougars neutralized Abrams, holding him to one sack, en route to a 28-7 win to advance to the semifinals.
"There's been great unity on this team," said Brittain, "The defense and mental toughness comes from being older."
Abram agrees with his coach's assessment.
"I don't even know if it's necessarily pure skill," said the senior. "I think it's more our cohesiveness that's helped."
Since his freshman year, Abrams moved from safety to defensive back by junior year and finally defensive end this season.
The senior's only football experience before high school came via flag football with friends. Growing up, however, football wasn't foreign in the Abrams' household. Before joining the Marines, his older brother, Alex, played in the secondary for Canyon Del Oro High School. Alex is stationed in California at Fort Pendleton.
Abrams will take a similar route as his brother. In the fall, the senior is hopeful that he will be patrolling the campus of West Point for Army. At the upstate New York academy, students are required to play a sport, but for Abrams, that won't likely mean a spot on the gridiron for the Black Knights. Instead he'll likely find himself back on the flag football field competing in intramurals, said Abrams.
West Point could use a player like Abrams on defense. Through nine games this season, opponents are averaging 27 points against the Black Knights.
Abrams could compete in track and field on the collegiate level. In previous years, he has become an accomplished sprinter in the 100 and 400-meter dashes, and has jumped 6 feet-10 inches in the high jump for Pusch Ridge.
Perhaps this superhero really can fly.