The Mindset of a Winner

Former All-American tailback Terry Zahner sat down to discuss his playing days at Boise State and his feelings about the current Broncos.

When the pursuit of a National Championship is the goal, perhaps the best way to prepare oneself for the journey towards that goal is to study those who've come before them and accomplished the same feat.  I was fortunate enough to get a chance to sit down and do just that with one of the all-time Bronco greats, Terry Zahner.  Zahner was part of the famed Four Horseman, an elite group of players that included the likes of quarterback Joe Aliotti, running back Cedric Minter, and fullback David Hughes from 1977 to 1980.  Zahner embodied everything that is Bronco football.  He was hard-working, he held himself and his teammates accountable, he bought into the system, and like so many before and after him, he didn't take kindly to being disrespected by anybody.

BF78:  You live in the Bay Area now. Do you still talk to any of the guys from that 1980 squad?

TZ:  Probably, 8-10 guys.  We still talk a little bit.  When they come down to a game in Reno or San Jose I can catch up with ‘em; we talk a bit.  You know, we just cannot believe how far the program has come, it's just unbelievable.

BF78:  What was the draw for you when you decided to play at Boise State ?

TZ:  Well, I graduated from high school in 1976 and I got a couple of letters from people saying come on over and walk on at Boise .  They told me you can't start on scholarship until the following year.  We're out of scholarships for this year.  They said they'd love for me to come up here and play, but I was going to have to grayshirt, sit out a year and not be involved with the program until January.  So that's what I did.  To be honest with you, Boise State was the only one who offered me a scholarship.

BF78:  Do you have any particularly memorable stories that stick out in your mind from your football days at Boise State?

TZ:  When I first went up there ( Boise ) for double days, I had came down here ( California ) and worked in the summer and I didn't really think too much of staying in shape.  I came in and I weighed over 200 pounds.  I was out of shape and we're going through double days and I was sixth on the depth chart.  I remember thinking "why am I here?"  I thought I had a talent and I thought "why didn't I get in shape?" Why didn't I take care of business?  I might not even make the team now.  I remember at one team dinner, I got up there a little bit early and I was so tired that I just sat down by the line against the wall. Everybody was going through and I was just too tired to even get up.  I remember Coach Criner; he just looked at me and shook his head as if to say "why did I give this guy a scholarship?"  

At that point, I just picked my butt up off the ground and said to myself, "I'm going to show him why he gave me a scholarship".  From there on out I just tried to give it everything I could.  I had Fred Good in front of me, Ced (Minter), they had two junior college transfers and a guy named Chris Bell, but they moved him over to DB.  So now I'm fifth string.  The running backs I thought were a unique group because no one acted like they were in.  Everybody wanted to play but everybody wanted to help each other out.  I had a couple of good practices and couple of other guys had some bad practices.  So I got moved up to third string.  

One day after practice, Coach Criner called me into his office and said ‘hey, we're playing at the University of Montana this week and we'd like you to practice at tailback and at fullback.  That way we can bring you up as a third string tailback and a third string fullback.  And that way we can bring an extra linebacker".  I was torn, because I didn't want to go to fullback, but I did want to make the road trip so I agreed.  As if I actually had a choice… Then halfway through the first quarter both Ced and Fred came out of the game with concussions.  I went in and got over 100 yards and three touchdowns and that just kind of set the tone for me.

BF78:  What was it like playing for Bronco coaching great Jim Criner?

TZ:  I enjoyed playing for Coach Criner.  He always got us fired up, kept the team motivated.  He had a sign on the wall (in the locker room) and it said "Those Who Stay Will Become Champions" and every day when we went in, we touched that sign.  That's what we worked for and that's what we finally attained.

BF78:  What would you say was his biggest coaching strength?

TZ:  He used to get us so fired up before a game... I don't care if there was a brick wall in front of us.  We would knock it down to get on the field.  We just wanted to get on the field and tear people up.  He had us prepared; he told us we were prepared.  He set up a game plan for us to win and he said if we executed that plan, we were going to do it.  He used to say to us, "if you take care of all the little things, the big things like the scoreboard will take care of themselves".  And he was right.

BF78:  Hmm, that last part sounds sort of familiar. Have you met Coach Petersen?

TZ:  I have, I've met him a couple times.  I've met Hawk a couple times.  I even got to meet Ian Johnson a couple times.  I've got a lot of respect for him.

BF78:  So what was your LEAST favorite thing about practice?

TZ:  The conditioning program.  Running the stadiums; I hated running the stadiums.  You know when I was a freshman I made the mistake of eating a whole stir n' frost cake before practice.  I went to practice that day and you know, I think there's still probably a brown stain up there from where I puked. There was another thing I hated.  I hated the park run too.  That park across the bridge, I forget the name of it (Julia Davis), but coach would make us run for distance over there.  It was beautiful (the park), but I hated it.

BF78:  Living outside of the Treasure Valley , what has been your experience with other folks regarding Boise State ? Have perceptions changed at all in your neck of the woods or are we still the little guys?

TZ:  Most definitely, I drive around in my truck.  I have a Boise State Alumni sticker, I have a Boise State trailer hitch and you‘d be shocked at how many people come up to me and say "well what about this? What about that?"  It's really opened doors.  And people down here, you know Cal is big, Stanford is big, but I've still got a kid who's a senior in high school and he's telling me that there's 10 or 20 kids running around in Boise State stuff on.  It's really awesome.

They're recognized now, but I do think that people still look at them as the underdogs.  Which is a good thing.

BF78:  I know we ran into each other at the most recent Fiesta Bowl against TCU, but did you get a chance to make it to Oklahoma game?

TZ:  I didn't go to the Oklahoma game, but I wished I had.  But I'll tell you, I got a ton of calls from people after that game.  From players, from friends, from family, from people that I hadn't seen in years… it was unbelievable.  I had a big party at my house; there were probably 50 people there--we had a great time. It's just a great time to be a Boise fan.  Honestly here, no BS, I'm just proud to say that I went to Boise . To me it's special.

BF78:  Head to head: the 1980 team vs. the 2010 team. Who wins?

TZ:  2010 wins hands down.  They're bigger, they're faster, and they're stronger.  And I'm not saying that they don't have the heart.  They do, we had the heart, but they're just bigger.  Seriously now, if I had my talent that I had back then, I don't think that Boise would even look at me.  They're just better.  If somebody from my era can't see that, then I think they need to get up to speed.  I'm not saying we'd get blown or anything either, but they're better.

BF78:  Kellen Moore or Joe Aliotti and why?

TZ:  Joe Aliotti.  When Joe Aliotti first came up there, I didn't like how he would come out of the pocket and get chased 20 or 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage and then complete a duck for like an 8 or 10 yard completion.  I was just so worried (about that) all the time and it pissed me off, but then after he did it time and time again, I was sort of like "this guy is makin' it happen".  And then one day in practice we were out screwing around, and I could outrun Joe easy, but I'll be damned if I could get two hands on him.  He could move, he was an athlete, he didn't look like it, but he could make guys miss.  Then after that day every time I'd see him drop way back behind the line of scrimmage, I was like "okay something good is going to happen now."  He'd just step back and make something good happen.

BF78:  So your pick is Joe and it's no question?

TZ:  Oh no, that's like a toss-up.  I respect the hell out of Joe, but what Kellen has done has just been unbelievable.  Especially as a freshman coming in like that and lightin' it on fire.  He stays cool; he knows the game, the kid is just good.  He's got talent.  As much respect as I have for Joe I still might have to lean towards Kellen, but I'd play with either one of ‘em.

BF78:  What is your opinion of the current backs at BSU? I'd say this is as deep as we've been in a long time.

TZ:  Jeremy Avery is just good.  The last few years I think we've had really good backs.  Now Ced and Avery I think are a lot alike.  I think Ced was a hell of a back and I think I was lucky that he got tired once in a while and could get in the game.  I would say those guys are very similar, I'd take either one of ‘em.

BF78:  Got any bold predictions for the upcoming season?

TZ:  Well the National Championship is in Glendale this year and I'd like to make my reservations now.  I think they've got a chance.  If they can avoid having a letdown and get knocked off by one of the conference teams… of course you'd probably have to have a little help.  You'd probably need one of the bigger conference schools to lose a game or two, but I think Boise 's got a shot at it. I really do.

BF78:  So do you think it happens or not?

TZ:  I think it happens. I think its destiny.


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