Zach Line is as humble as they come.
He doesn't like to talk about breaking Doak Walker's single-game touchdown record or the fact that he's currently third in the nation with 11 rushing touchdowns or that he's run for over 100 yards in four of SMU's five games this season.
But pay credit where it's due.
Line is the heart of SMU's offense and is a major reason why the Mustangs are 4-1, 4-0 in their last four games.
He plays through pain—Line separated his shoulder three games ago against Northwestern State, but scored a school-record five touchdowns en route to a 40-7 victory. He spoke to the media afterwards without mentioning the injury and then turned around the next week and scored three touchdowns in a 42-0 win over Memphis. Then he let out the fact that he'd been playing with Kevlar pads, the same type of protection that Tony Romo has been wearing to guard his ribs.
Ask him how he feels and he says, "Great!" or, "I feel the best I've ever felt after a game."
This past weekend, Line played a pivotal role in the Mustangs' 40-33 overtime win against 20th-rankd TCU, their first over their rival since 2005. SMU was up by a touchdown heading into halftime. On the first play of the second half, Line rushed TCU kickoff returner Greg McCoy, stripping the ball on the goal line. Chris Parks recovered the fumble in the end zone to put SMU up 24-10.
Line was asked how he'd rank that game-changing play among all of his glorious touchdowns.
"With touchdowns, you have a feeling it's going to happen. When you're on offense, the crowd expects you to score," he said. "When coming out on a kickoff and there's a return guy like McCoy and you knock the ball out, it's not something that's supposed to happen. It turns the momentum. Where does that rank for me? Probably one of the, or the biggest play I've made since I've been here."
Line didn't score any touchdowns against the Horned Frogs, but he did rush for 120 yards.
"That was definitely my favorite and biggest win so far," Line said. "It was the most personal."
Line, who is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound bulldozer, was not offered a scholarship by a single Division I program. While at Oxford High School in Michigan, he talked to schools like Michigan and Michigan State (he grew up a Spartans fan) and they showed interest, but not enough to offer him a scholarship.
"I just felt I had those schools in my backyard and that they'd offer me," he said.
Line got connected with June Jones, then the head coach at Hawaii, through Bill Keenist, the Detroit Lions' VP of Communications, who had a son that played with Line in high school. Keenist knew of Line's situation, knew he was good enough to play at the next level and called up Jones, whom he knew back when Jones was with the Lions.
Keenist sent film to Hawaii and Jones called up Line a week later to recruit him to play for the Warriors. Shortly thereafter, Jones took the head coaching job at SMU and Line followed him there.
Jones saw that Line, a linebacker and wrestler in high school, could benefit their team as a running back because he could block off the edge and had enough quickness to run the ball.
That's why he's so perfect in Jones' Run-and-Shoot offense—he's always in the game and can confuse defenses because they never know when he's going to run or be used as pass protection.
"He has great instincts," Jones said. "He can run faster than defenses think he can run."
Now, with J.J. McDermott still easing his way into the playbook a little bit, Line essentially provides a shoulder to cry on—someone the offense can turn to at any point in the game to get the job done.
"We are able to get down to the red zone easily by throwing the ball in the air and then touchdowns are my job and they come pretty easy," Line said. "The scheme just plays well in my hands."
And he still has one more year after this season, as he's just a junior.
Line has racked up 583 of SMU's 613 total rushing yards in five games this season, 11th most in the nation and more than any running back in the state of Michigan (not including Wolverines' quarterback Denard Robinson, who's run for 603 yards).
"I felt betrayed a little bit when I wasn't offered anything [from Michigan schools]," Line said. "But now I've totally forgotten about that. I love where I am at and what we're doing here."
Line has a younger brother who recently committed to SMU's class of 2012. Prescott Line looks exactly like his brother and will play in the backfield as well.
Playing in the NFL is a distant thought that Zach isn't paying much attention to, but if he keeps smashing through defenses over the next year-and-a-half, scouts will take note.
"If that presents itself, it would be great," he said. "But right now I can't really worry about it."
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