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NFL Legend Michael Zordich Reflects on Playing High School Football in Youngstown

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

As the son of an NFL player, football was in Michael Zordich's life from a very young age. 

“I like to say I pretty much grew up in a locker room,’’ Zordich said. “I loved it. Everywhere we went there were these mountains of men. And those guys were just awesome. I loved it.’’

Zordich, the son of 12-year NFL defensive back Mike Zordich, picked up football at a young age in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. 

“I started playing when I was in fifth grade for the West Catholic crusaders,’’ the younger Zordich said. “It was a league they had with a bunch of different Catholic schools playing each other."

Youngstown, located smack between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, has produced more NFL players per capita than anywhere else in the country.

"Youngstown, growing up there, it just cultivates football," Zordich said. "It has its own mentality and style of play. It’s just a football dense area. Everyone’s family showed up to every game, that’s for sure. It's a small, tight-knit community and everyone is kind of close. It’s a special area."

While Zordich enjoyed growing up around his father's NFL teammates, there were times when it also felt like he had big shoes to fill. 

"People like to talk," he said. "They want to compare you to this guy or that guy. I think it was sixth grade when people were starting to compare me. How can you compare a sixth grader to a NFL player? It was a little crazy.

"But then I started making plays and kind of carved out my own name for myself."

By the time Zordich reached Cardinal Mooney High School, he had started to blossom as a linebacker. 

"(My high school football career) was just like you see in the movies about high school football," Zordich said. "My dad started coaching there at the same time, and it was a lot of fun to travel to games together.

"But that’s when the football turned up a notch. We had some really good players on our team, some big-time talent. It was just a really great experience."

Even on a talented team, Zordich stood out. He was a four-star recruit and signed on to play at Penn State University, where he played on offense as a fullback, on defense as a linebacker, and as a core special teamer from 2009 to 2012.

Unfortunately, Zordich’s NFL experience was cut short when he tore his ACL on the first play of his first game — a kickoff coverage for the Carolina Panthers.

Zordich never really made it all the way back — "I spent my whole time on IR."

But once his career ended, he was able to discover a new, surprising passion.

"After football, I had a little bit of time and a little bit of money and just had to figure out what I wanted to do," he said. "I joked with my friends about working on a cattle ranch. 'How much fun would that be?'

"Then I found a website that had a 12,000 acre ranch in southeast Ohio, with 3,000 cows. I thought, 'Wow, that’s huge. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it big.'"

He called the rancher, who told him to meet him at daylight. After their 4:45 a.m. meeting, Zordich had a job as a ranch hand.

"The only difference between our ranch and the one you see in the movies is we’re on four wheelers and they were on horses," Zordich said with a laugh. "Other than that, it's similar."

Seven years later, he’s a partner in a meat processing and production plant called Fancy Meats in Cadiz, Ohio.

"We’re baby stepping it, but it’s going well," Zordich said. "It’s all natural and all organic stuff."

Now, Zordich said he'd love to pair his new passion with his old passion for football. "What I’d love to do is get our product onto training tables for different college teams."

Photo: AP/Don Wright


  • NFL Players and Legends
  • High School Football