LOGAN, Utah – A conference champion. A two-time bowl champion. Part of the winningest senior class in school history. A fixture in the top 10 career tackles list in Utah State’s history. The heart and soul of a nationally-known defense. A captain.
Not many could have guessed what was in store for Zach Vigil’s future when he first stepped foot on the practice field as a 180-pound walk-on.
Looking back at the senior linebacker’s career now, it’s easy to see how much he’s accomplished.
“If I never play football again after this year, I could die happy knowing I left a stamp,” said Vigil. “I was a part of a group of guys that wasn’t going to accept mediocrity. That’s what we’ve done here.”
Vigil’s road to becoming a vocal and emotional senior leader began after he decided to walk-on to Utah State’s football team. He had one other school looking at him out of high school, but it wasn’t exactly what he wanted.
Weber State took him on a recruiting trip and offered him a preferred walk-on spot, which meant he would have been first in line for a scholarship down the road.
“I said to myself, ‘well, if I’m going to walk on, I might as well walk on D-1.’ So I called Coach (Kevin) Clune and asked if I could come walk on. He said ‘for sure,’ so that’s what I ended up doing. As of right now, that’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
As a redshirt freshman, Vigil was behind Bobby Wagner on the depth chart and only appeared in four games, starting none. However, something clicked in the offseason, and he’s started every game since.
Linebackers are looked at as leaders by the rest of the defense, however a redshirt sophomore isn’t a typical defensive leader. At the same time, Vigil wasn’t a typical sophomore linebacker.
“After my redshirt freshman year, I learned how to flip the switch, and that’s when I took more of a vocal role, as far as leadership stand point goes,” Vigil said. “Since then, I have just tried to do my part as a vocal leader, through showing how to work hard and do the right things. A lot of it is a lot of time and investment really.”
Now, as a senior, Vigil is still leading by example, but also mentoring young players who are coming up the Aggie ranks.
“There’s a lot of young guys out here with a lot of talent that just need a little bit of guidance,” Vigil said. “I’m not saying I’m a great vocal leader, but a little kick in the butt every once in a while is good for everybody.”
One of the young players Zach refers to is his brother Nick, a sophomore linebacker for the Aggies. The two years the duo have played together at Utah State are the first two years the brothers have ever played football on the same team.
“It’s cool playing with Nick. Last year, we played together quite a bit,” Vigil said. “This year, he’s a starter, I’m a starter, and it’s pretty special. Before every game, we tell each other we love each other and to have a good game. We come out here, and not a lot of brothers get to share in that experience, so it’s pretty cool.”
While the two have had moments of a sibling rivalry, there’s one thing they both care about that takes precedence.
“We’re brothers, so we have our brotherly battles,” Vigil said. “We argue and we bicker, but at the end of the day we love each other, and we don’t care who out-performs who that day, as long as we win games. That’s all we care about.”
Vigil’s winning ways come from a work ethic that includes off the field activities like working out in the summer with strength and conditioning coach Dave Scholz, and spending countless hours watching film of upcoming opponents.
“Jake Doughty and I started doing that when I was a sophomore and Jake was a junior. We started watching a lot of film together because we knew we’d be starting together,” Vigil said. “Coach Clune taught us how to watch film, and as we’ve moved forward, Coach (Todd) Orlando’s done a really good job of showing me how to watch film even more in depth.”
While Vigil is one of the Aggies’ top players on the field, it’s his character and will to win that grabs the attention of USU head coach Matt Wells.
“He’s a football junkie who cares so much about this program and the culture that he’ll do everything in his power to make sure that we stay on the right track,” Wells said. “We may be able to replace Zach’s talent one day, but it’ll be hard to replace his leadership and his character and what he’s meant to this program.”
Now, in his senior season, Vigil is poised to end his career in the top 10 in Utah State in several statistical categories, including tackles. The former walk-on will have his name cemented in Utah State football history after being named the 2014 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-American by USA Today Sports.
“That’s heavy, heavy stuff to me. I don’t even know how to respond to that because I’ve played with a lot of really good guys, guys that aren’t going to be technically on the board, numbers-wise, as high as I am, but in my opinion were better players and better leaders,” Vigil said. “I’m just very humbled and honored to even be thought of in that discussion because of the guys that I’ve played with and seen play the games.”
While Vigil will be remembered for his outstanding play and leadership, he will remember his time at Utah State for a different reason.
“Honestly, I don’t worry about any of that stuff as long as we’re winning games.” Vigil said. “That’s why I’m happy that I can stamp my legacy on the fact that when I was here, we won a bunch of games.”
Along with winning a bunch of games, Vigil has also excelled in the classroom as he has already received his bachelor’s degree from Utah State in interdisciplinary studies.
As for Vigil’s future, he has a couple of options.
“After football’s over, God-willing I stay healthy, I’d like to have a shot to try to play at the next level. If that doesn’t happen, I’m going hunting.”
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– USU –