STORY BY AUSTIN CANNON
The majority of Drake football players only have to wait through the offseason before returning to game action. The wait was longer for senior receiver Zach Zlabis.
Zlabis was redshirted his freshman year. He broke his foot before the 2013 season, requiring season-ending surgery. His foot didn’t heal correctly, so he needed another surgery last year. The 2014 season was lost as well.
But after three years of waiting, Zlabis was healthy and ready to go in Drake’s 44-30 victory over William Jewell. He caught four passes for nine yards in his first game action since his senior season at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.
“We have a great group of guys out here, so it was a blast,” Zlabis said. “I couldn’t have had it any other way.”
Zlabis got involved right away, catching two passes for 16 yards on Drake’s first offensive possession, including a 10-yard catch to convert on third down.
The high volume of reps in spring ball and fall camp, in addition to his previous experience, had Zlabis ready for his return to the field.
“Football is football, no matter what level you’re at,” he said. “It’s still the same game.”
With Zlabis finally hitting the field, head coach Rick Fox has another option at receiver, one that’s been a long time coming.
“(I) couldn’t be more excited for Zach,” Fox said.
Senior left guard Aaron Melton sustained a right ankle injury on the offense’s first play from scrimmage Saturday.
Melton was blocking in front of running back Conley Wilkins near the left sideline. Wilkins went down and fell on Melton’s ankle.
After receiving treatment on the sideline, Melton was carted off to the locker room. He returned to the sideline during the second half on crutches with a boot encasing his right foot.
Senior linebacker Taylor Coleman didn’t play. A shoulder injury kept him on the sideline in street clothes.
Extra points are often taken for granted in college football, but there’s still plenty that can go wrong for the kicking team. Two such instances occurred Saturday night.
Josh Lee, who was 3-for-3 on field goals, had his extra-point attempt blocked by Jewell’s Kier Stamp after Drake scored the first touchdown of the second half. Regardless of that mishap, Lee was still named the Pioneer Football League Special Teams Player of the Week.
Trailing 19-3, Jewell responded with a touchdown of its own. Brandon Womack’s kick was too low and Phil Hespen blocked it.
In all, there were three blocked kicks Saturday night. Jewell’s Orlando Ward blocked Cam Bohnert’s punt with a little more than two minutes left in the game.
After allowing a pair of blocked kicks and a kickoff return for a touchdown, Drake has plenty to work on.
“Our special teams, we’ve got to just clean up a couple plays there,” Fox said.
Drake travels to Grand Forks, North Dakota, to play the University of North Dakota on Saturday. UND beat Wyoming 24-13 in its opener, its first victory over an FBS opponent.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.