Navy junior guard Jake Zuzek is the leader of an offensive line that has cleared out holes for the third-best rushing offense in major-college football this season, but that's not the only quality that impresses his coaches.
The toughness and stamina of Zuzek, a Delaware County native and a West Catholic graduate, also has stood out for the bowl-bound Midshipmen.
Zuzek, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder after last season, is a portrait in ice bags after a game. He spends Sundays and most of his free time during the week in the trainer's room making sure that he's ready to go for the next game.
And he's always ready to go, and we do mean always. The Midshipmen (7-4) have snapped the ball 783 times on offense going into Saturday's annual clash with Army at Lincoln Financial Field, and Zuzek has stood on the sidelines for just one of them.
"I came out against Pittsburgh when my knee buckled a little bit," Zuzek said Wednesday in a telephone interview, "but I was only out one play and went right back in.
"It's a good feeling. That's what we have to do here with the offensive line. A lot of us play a lot of snaps. I think it was a record for how many snaps we played against Toledo, 106 in one game, so that was good."
The 6-foot, 310-pound Zuzek, who will make his 25th consecutive start Saturday, gave credit to Navy's sports medicine and athletic training staffs for helping him recover from some grueling games, especially with his surgically repaired shoulder.
"I feel like any season is tough on the body for an offensive lineman," he said. "It's just a normal season going through a lot of time in the training room."
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Zuzek "epitomizes who we are as a football program."
"He doesn't say much, comes to work every day," he said. "He's hurt, he's banged up. He plays a spot where you cannot hide from contact. He's going to get hit every play. You see him after games with ice bags on his shoulders and different things. He's just a tough sucker."
Zuzek knows that an offensive lineman toils in anonymity, and that's why he was so surprised when he was recognized by President Obama last April at a ceremony honoring Navy as the 2012 winner of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy for its victories over Air Force and Army. Zuzek recovered a fumble for a touchdown against the Falcons.
"It was kind of a shock," Zuzek recalled. "He was going over the season and the successful things we did as a team. He started naming a couple of people by name, and then he talked about how I scored a touchdown at Air Force. He said my name and then he said my nickname, 'Zoo.'
"Hearing the president, who's the most powerful guy in the world, say your name is a thrill. We got to shake his hand after his speech and say a few words to him. That was pretty cool."
Zuzek didn't have an exact count of family and friends attending Saturday's game but called it "a good amount." He's glad they'll be able to see him in a "home" game.
"It's all kind of surreal because you've grown up going to Phillies games and Eagles games and stuff like that," he said. "It's just only a dream to play on those fields. Somehow I ended up playing at Navy and they play at the Linc every year. So it's kind of a surreal feeling, like a dream come true."