Watch Zack Golditch on the football field and you will see an athletic, powerful, All-Mountain West offensive tackle who has helped the Colorado State University Rams put up eye-popping offensive numbers en route to Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl game against Marshall.
Observe him around teammates and you will see a quiet, likeable leader and mentor – someone whose practice and workout habits serve as an example to teammates young and old.
But if you really want to see the 6-foot-5, 295-pound senior from Aurora at his best, observe him when he’s around young kids. He’s the biggest kid in the room – but with an easy way that allows him to relate to young people and speak to them on their level.
Rams coach Mike Bobo recalled a trip he and Golditch took last summer to Children’s Hospital in Denver – a feel-good tradition he was part of at the University of Georgia before coming to CSU three years ago. Bobo was amazed at the way his standout offensive tackle went from room to room, inspiring smiles, hugs and high fives from every kid he met.
“Here I am, the head coach, and Zack just took control of every room we walked into,” Bobo said. “He would walk over and talk to the kids, and he just engages with them. It’s never about Zack – it’s about other people. Zack Golditch is all about trying to help others.”
Golditch is a relentless volunteer. Whenever a community outreach opportunity arises, he’s the first to raise his hand. When no one else raises a hand, he cancels his plans and goes. That’s how much he loves getting out and meeting people – especially kids.
“After my first spring game in 2014 a little girl came up and asked me for my gloves, and her face just lit up when I gave them to her,” he said. “That experience made a really strong impression on me. That’s when I really learned that I can use this platform as a college athlete to talk to kids and make a difference in their lives. That’s the very least I can do for all the blessings I’ve had in my life.”
All Rams volunteer
CSU’s department of athletics for years has had a reputation for strong community outreach, encouraging all student-athletes to visit area schools and hospitals, talk with at-risk youth about the importance of staying in school, or simply tossing the football or shooting the breeze with a kid looking for a friend.
For Golditch, though, commitment to outreach is different. He participates in Reading with Rams in area schools; he visits kids at Respite Care; he works at youth football camps; he’s a very large presence at CSU move-in day, helping new students carry their belongings to their new home in the residence halls; and he relishes the opportunity to interact with at-risk kids – many of them just like him – at Boys & Girls Club events. He even spent a week in Jamaica this summer with 12 other CSU student-athletes, doing community service and working with kids in a small village.
“All of our athletes participate in outreach, but Zack’s the guy who’s always looking to do more,” said Patrick Krza, assistant director of community outreach. “I don’t care if he’s exhausted from practice or on summer break, he’s always the first one to volunteer. In fact, he gets upset if he can’t do outreach. He really wants to make a difference in another person’s life. It’s just part of his DNA.”
Krza recalled taking Golditch to the Burn Unit at UC Health in Aurora. He watched in amazement as Golditch went from patient to patient – many of them with severe burns – and simply talked…and listened.
“Zack has a way of relating to the patients, without telling them why,” Krza said. “He just puts extra-special care into those visits. He’s genuine and real – and in my mind, just an exceptional human being.”
The ultimate Ram
It’s that attitude that inspired CSU to nominate Golditch for the Danny Wuerffel Trophy, given annually to the football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement. He was also nominated for the Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team. He didn’t win either award, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an impact.
“To me, Zack is the ultimate Ram – he represents our team the right way, and our university the right way,” Bobo said. “He’s the type of guy who, when you look at your own kids, you hope they grow up to be the type of person Zack is.”
The night that changed everything
Chances are fairly good that you heard about Zack Golditch more than a year before he first donned practice gear at CSU. He’s that guy – the one who took the stray bullet in his skull the night of the Aurora theater shooting. One of 82 casualties – including 12 deaths – on that horrific night in July 2012.
Golditch, then a senior-to-be at Gateway High School, was with friends in a theater adjacent to the one where the shooter launched his attack. He was unaware of what was happening until he felt a sharp pain behind his left ear. A bullet fragment lodged against his skull, and he started bleeding heavily.
“I was incredibly lucky,” he said. “If that bullet had hit my head on just a slightly different path, who knows what would have happened? It could have hit an artery, or hit my spine. The fact that I was able to walk away, basically, with a scratch, gave me great appreciation for life and for other people.
“That’s what motivates me to treat people with the utmost respect, to speak kindly and do things to help others. I know how quickly all of that can be taken away.”
His high school coach, Justin Hoffman, was an assistant principal at Gateway. Several of the school’s students were impacted that night, and he quickly drove to the theater to assist in any way he could. That’s when he learned that Golditch, his star offensive lineman for the upcoming season, was in the hospital with a head wound.
Uncommon spirit and commitment
Hoffman finally connected with Golditch after midnight and learned that the wound was fairly minor.
“And that’s when Zack told me he would see me at 6 that morning for offseason workouts,” Hoffman said. “I couldn’t believe it – here’s a kid who’s been shot and experienced all kinds of trauma, and he was determined to be at practice that morning. That’s just who Zack is – he never missed a practice at Gateway, or a summer workout, and he wasn’t going to miss this one. When he walked in that morning, it gave our team a huge lift. I’ll never forget it.”
Golditch rarely talks about the shooting or its aftermath. Many of his teammates are unaware of his story – mostly because he has never let that night be about him.
“I didn’t want that night to define me,” he said. “There’s no doubt that it changed me, but I was able to walk away with my ear being numb. That’s it. Lots of other people were not as lucky as me.
“My mom always told me, ‘what goes around, comes around,’ so treating people with respect and giving people your time is important. Time is such a precious thing – you can give money, you can give materials, but to give your time to help people is so valuable. That’s why I try to do everything I can to help others.”
Golditch, majoring in sociology with a minor in criminal justice, will graduate in May. He would love to get a shot at playing in the NFL, and even though he’s unlikely to be drafted he should get a chance to earn a job as a free agent. He’s incredibly durable – he’s missed one game in the past three years – and his work ethic is second to none.
If the NFL doesn’t pan out, he’s thinking about graduate school, or perhaps becoming a firefighter. Regardless, he’ll continue to look for chances to help others.
“The reaction I get when I volunteer, the impact it makes, it’s priceless,” he said. “I know that sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. It goes back to just giving time. If I’m sitting on the couch and I get a call about doing some volunteer work, of course I’m going to do it. Why wouldn’t I? It’s just another chance to have a positive impact on someone’s life. That just makes me happy.”