Mutka: Mason Zurek just part of busy athletic family
Welcome to Mason Zurek’s world. One busy tailback, the Wabash sophomore doesn’t have time to miss girls — there aren’t any on this bucolic campus. He’s too busy juggling academics and football.
The former Andrean standout — Zurek rushed for more than 2,800 yards and scored 45 touchdowns in his last two years of high school — burst upon the college scene after an injury-plagued freshman year.
“I broke my finger and still had some shoulder issues back from high school,” said Zurek, who rushed for 228 yards and two TDs on Oct. 5.
A career best? “By a longshot,” he said.
So was his 44-yard gain on a pass play.
Zurek earned a spot on the D3football.com team of the week for the explosion, which included an 82-yard touchdown run, Wabash’s longest since 2003, but didn’t have much time to enjoy his moment of fame. On Saturday he suffered a broken tibia in a victory over Ohio Wesleyan to end his season again.
Ironically, Zurek moved into the starting lineup because of a season-ending injury to running back Tyler Holmes. The aspiring Wabash cannonball was averaging better than 100 rushing yards per game, but only played one quarter before going down.
Though Zurek is built like a fullback at 5-11, 208 he prefers the shifty approach to bowling over tacklers, something which Coach Erik Raeburn applauded after the Wooster game.
“You gain more yardage on cutbacks than by plowing over people,” Zurek said before the Little Giants improved to 5-and-0.
Zurek comes from an athletic family. His sister, Natasha is gearing up for her third season at Indiana State. The 5-9 guard appeared in 31 games last year. Finishing with a flourish, she averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in ISU’s last four games.
Last weekend was an athletic overload for the Zureks with Wabash football and Mason’s younger brother, Codey, playing in the soccer sectional for Andrean. Sunday, their mother, Stacey, was inducted into the Carroll University (Wisconsin) Athletic Hall of Fame.
She was a four-year starter in volleyball and basketball. In her senior season she served as a team captain in both sports. Zurek went on to coach volleyball at Wisconsin-Platteville and Purdue Calumet, earning conference coach of the year honors at both schools.
“So much going on that we couldn’t be there to celebrate with her,” said Mason, who had a short work day of four carries before being hurt.
Wabash was a perfect fit for him, shifting from one private school to another.
“I was recruited by some D-I schools early and a few D-II schools, but it wasn’t like I was going to make a living playing football,” he said. “Academics came first and I have a great personal relationship with most of my professors.”
A typical day includes three hours in the classroom, two hours for football practice and 31/2 hours in the library before crashing at Sigma Chi, his home base.
NCAC, Northwest Indiana style: Over the years the North Coast Athletic Conference power has relied heavily on talent from the region and the pattern continues with a dozen or so on the roster with Northwest Indiana roots.
On game days Wabash’s two-deeps have included wide receiver James Kraus (North Judson), safety Austin Brown (Griffith) and nose guard Zach Breuckman (Crown Point).
They were preceded by Griffith native Kyle Najar, who was a defensive standout on Wabash’s 2011 team that parlayed a 12-1 record to the NCAA quarterfinals. Like Zurek, Najar was a rhetoric major and a member of Sigma Chi before joining Wabash’s coaching staff after graduation.
Playing for a program which ranks fifth in Division III with 637 victories and a lifetime .620 winning percentage invites self-confidence. No one on the current roster was alive in 1990, the last Wabash team with a losing record. The Little Giants have not lost more than two games in any of the last eight seasons.
Zurek sums it up this way. “We expect to go unbeaten, but we don’t take anything for granted.”
The Little Giants backed up his confident words with point spreads ranging from 25 to 69 points. They’re averaging 54 points a game.
Bearing down: Former Bears linemen John Johnson (Hobart) and Ted Karras (Emerson) cherish being part of the 1963 NFL championship team, something they were ceremoniously reminded of at Soldier Field along with 16 other survivors who attended the Vikings game on Sept. 15.
“We watched the game with the McCaskey family in their box,” Johnson said. “We were treated like royalty and they surprised us with replicas of the 1963 championship ring.”
Their faces were flashed on the scoreboard as they were introduced at halftime. Johnson and Mike Pyle were chosen as honorary co-captains for the pre-game coin toss.