The book on: FB Zach Line

A gritty, versatile and productive player, Zach Line could be one of the top undrafted rookies for the Vikings this year and a player to keep on the radar.

Southern Methodist University Mustangs
Oxford, Michigan
Oxford Area Senior High School


The powerfully built inside runner has drawn comparisons to Atlanta's Michael Turner and Washington's Alex Morris for his ability to push the pile and get the tough yardage breaking tackles as a north-south runner. While lacking the sudden burst and explosion to race past second-level defenders National Football League teams look for in a tailback, a one-back offense that features a strong rushing attack might be the perfect fit for a player who was recruited as a linebacker, only to be used as a short-yardage specialist before becoming the Mustangs' featured back in 2010.

Projected to move to fullback, or possibly H-Back at the professional level, Line does have the strength, anchor and pass protection skills to perform as a blocker in the backfield. With 75 receptions to his credit, mostly on short routes, screens and dump-offs, he has the tools necessary to be a nice safety valve receiver in motion in the NFL.

Still, it is the hope that some team would recognize Line's success as a ball carrier. Known for their quality ball carriers during their days of prominence in the 1970s and early '80s, the Mustangs boasted one of the most dominating tailback tandems in college football, aptly nicknamed the "Pony Express" during the era that featured Eric Dickerson and Craig James as All-American running backs. The two ball carriers combined for 8,193 yards and 61 touchdowns on the ground from 1979-82 for the Mustangs.

Only Dickerson (790 carries for 4,450 yards and 47 touchdowns) stands in the way of Line on the school career-record charts. The Oxford, Michigan native rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored at least 10 times on the ground in each of his last three seasons at Southern Methodist. He finished his career second in SMU annals and sixth in Conference USA history with 778 rushing attempts for 4,185 yards, as his 47 touchdown runs tied Dickerson and placed second on the league all-time record list.

Dickerson produced 100-yard rushing performances 28 times for the Mustangs. The only other Southern Methodist player to come close is Line, who reached the "century mark" 22 times during his last three seasons. He also ranks third on the school career-record chart and 13th in league history with 282 points scored, amassing 4,784 yards in 50 games. With those impressive totals, a move to the classic blocking fullback at the NFL level could happen, but it would be a shame not to utilize his valid running skills as a ball carrier.

During his playing days at Oxford High School, Line starred as a tailback and linebacker, but was nationally recognized for attacking ball carriers, rather than toting the ball. He received a two-star prospect ranking from both and as a middle linebacker.

As a senior, the All-State, All-Flint Metro League and Class II All-Area choice recorded 154 tackles with eight forced fumbles and four recoveries in 2008. On offense, he rushed for 1,723 yards with seventeen touchdowns and also threw for three scores. Line also finished third in his wresting weight class in the state championships.

Line, the second oldest of five children, wasn't getting much attention from Football Bowl Subdivision programs during his senior prep season, but he got a little help from Bill Keenist, the senior vice president of communications for the Detroit Lions. Line played football with Keenist's son, and Keenist knew Southern Methodist head coach June Jones from when Jones coached for the Lions.

Jones liked what he saw of Line on a DVD and Line wound up at SMU, where Jones planned on using him at linebacker – until the need for a strong blocking back became clear. Determined to play for Southern Methodist after first signing his national letter of intent to become a Mustang on January 29th, 2008, he graduated early from high school, arriving on the SMU campus after enrolling in January 2009.

"I went straight to offense," said Line, who played on both sides of the ball in high school and also punted. "I really liked linebacker, and at first it seemed like I would just be blocking. But I grew into it. And I knew at some point the ball would come." He dropped 15 pounds in the 2009 off-season and worked on his speed.

Running backs coach Wes Suan said Line is an intense worker who can get better by creating situations where defenders are trying to arm-tackle him, since he's strong enough to break their grasps. While that first season at SMU was a learning experience, he did get on the field for all 13 games, earning six starting assignments.

Used in short yardage situations, Line scored seven times on just 49 carries for 189 yards, in addition to snatching 10 passes and scoring 42 points. He also excelled on special teams as a gunner, recording five tackles and causing a fumble. Even though he found his niche as a blocker and short-area ball carrier, leading the way for tailback Shawnbrey McNeal, who rushed for 1,188 yards and 12 touchdowns, Line was "in line" for an expanded role in head coach June Jones' wide-open spread attack as a sophomore.

In 2010, with McNeal gone, Line took advantage of his opportunity to be the featured back, showing off a powerful running style and the ability to exploit creases created when opposing defenses tried to defend the passing game in SMU's Run and Shoot. Even though the Mustangs ranked 81st in the nation in rushing (138.79 ypg), Line accounted for 106.71 of that average, as his total of 1,494 yards rank second on the school season-record chart and ninth in Conference USA history.

That marked the 14th time that Southern Methodist had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season. Line would go on to reach the 1,000 level two more times for the Mustangs, as not even the great Eric Dickerson could boast accomplishing that feat. The only other SMU runner to join Line as a three-time 1,000-yard rusher is Reggie Dupard (1,249 in 1983; 1,160 in 1984; 1,278 in 1985). The sophomore also snatched seventeen passes and continued to perform on special teams, chipping in five solo tackles in 2010.

The season was not without a little "drama," however, but it also displayed Line's toughness that would rival players from the "leather helmet" era. Shortly after running for 139 yards vs. Texas Christian on September 24th, Line was hospitalized with a staph infection in his armpit. Early in the week after the TCU clash, he noticed a painful swelling in his armpit. The medical staff started him on antibiotics immediately, but it still grew to the size of a golf ball by the next day.

Line is susceptible to infections. He's suffered two previously, one in high school and one during 2009 spring practice. Knowing Line's body is resistant to some antibiotics, the staff sent him to the hospital. "When my body gets worn down, I need to pay more attention to what I'm eating," said the ball carrier, which has to take a range of other precautions to keep his strength up.

Laying in a hospital, antibiotics pumping into his system, Line could barely stand to hear about football. Discharged from the hospital on Friday, October 5th, he went directly to meet the team buses for the trip to Houston, where the Mustangs were scheduled to meet Rice the next day. "I hate not being on the field," said Line, who did watch game tape during his stay at Baylor Medical Center.

Line entered the game late in the first half and rushed for 45 yards on 11 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, as the Mustangs pulled away for a 42-31 Conference USA win. "When Zach came in [at Rice], he brought some of that swagger back," said left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who noted Line provides SMU with great "sound bites in the huddle."

Offensive lineman Bryce Tennison said, "Ah, the man is back," when Line first took the field. Line responded: "I'm back, fellas. Let's get back to business." By the end of October, the sophomore was back to "blowing up" defenders, as he would rush for over 100 yards in four of his next five contests.

Unknown to the staff and trainers, though, was that Line actually played in his last four games with a fractured bone in his lower back. During that span, he had 95 carries for 522 yards and three scores. "I don't expect 100 yards, but at the same time, I'm not surprised," Line said. "It's good to finally get the ball, and I've made good use of my carries so far."

The "injury bug" bit again in 2011, this time, costing Line three games on the sidelines after he injured his foot vs. Navy. He still went on to earn All-Conference USA first-team honors after leading the league and ranking seventh nationally with an average of 122.4 rushing yards per game. In ten contests, he gained 1,224 yards, ninth-best on the SMU season-record chart, as his seventeen touchdown runs tied for second on the annual record list, accomplishing that feat on 208 attempts (5.88 ypc).

Line continued to assault the school and league record books, as he garnered first-team All-Conference USA honors while being named the league's Offensive Player of the Year in 2012. He tied for sixth on the SMU season-record list with 1,278 yards, as his 277 carries rank third on that chart, adding thirteen touchdowns on the ground. He caught a career-best 33 passes and for the third time in four years, posted five tackles on special teams.

Line closed out his career ranking fifth among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision performers with his 778 carries, as his 4,185 yards rank sixth and 47 touchdown runs placed third within that group. His 853 total touches also finished fourth and 4,784 all-purpose yards are good for eleventh among the active players.

Invited to play in the 2013 Senior Bowl, Line showed NFL talent evaluators that he might be a little more than a "hybrid" fullback. While his speed is only adequate, he is very effective running straight up the field, where he has the vision, balance and cutting ability to get through the creases much quicker than his timed speed indicates. He is a patient ball carriers who follows his blockers well and with his legs churning, low pad level and keeping his shoulders square, he has success in moving the pile.

Rather than try to win foot races in the open field, Line has good body lean and hip shake to set up second level defenders before making precise cuts to elude. He is a capable receiver on simple routes (screens and dump-offs) and thanks to time spent as a blocker during his freshman season, he is an efficient pass protector with the leg drive to widen rush lanes, if called upon to serve as a lead blocker at the next level.

Line started 41-of-50 games at Southern Methodist, where he carried 778 times for 4,185 yards (5.38 ypc), as both figures rank second in Mustangs history annals and sixth on the Conference USA all-time record chart…Only Eric Dickerson (4,450 yards on 790 attempts; 1979-82) had better numbers for SMU…Also tied Dickerson's school record with 47 touch-down runs, as just DeAngelo Williams of Memphis (55, 2002-05) scored more times on the ground in league annals…Caught 75 passes for 599 yards (7.99 ypc) and on special teams, he caused two fumbles and recorded eighteen tackles (16 solos)…Scored 282 points, the third-best figure by a Mustang and ranks 13th on the Conference USA all-time record list. Only Dee Walker (288 points; 1945, ‘47-49) and Dickerson (288) scored more points than Line for the Mustangs…Touched the ball 853 times for 4,784 all-purpose yards, which rank 14th on the league career-record chart…Rushed for over 100 yards in 22 contests, topped by only Dickerson (28) among Southern Methodist ball carriers…Became the eleventh player in SMU annals to earn all-league first-team honors three times in a career.

Line earned All-American Dream Team honors from The NFL Draft Report, as that scouting information service rated him as the best one-back performer in the nation…The first-team All-Conference USA pick was also selected the league's Offensive Player of the Year, as he became the eleventh Mustang to earn all-league first-team accolades three times during a career…Also became the second player in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards three times in a career, joining Reggie Dupard (1,249 in 1983; 1,160 in 1984; 1,278 in 1985), as Line ranked second in the conference with an average of 98.31 rushing yards per game…His 277 carries are the third-highest in a season by a Mustang, surpassed by just Keylon Kincade (327 in 2002; 317 in 2003)…His 1,278 yards on the ground tied Reggie Dupard (1985) for sixth-best on the SMU annual record list…Ran for thirteen touchdowns and caught a career-high 33 passes for 229 yards (6.94 ypc)…Scored 78 points and made five solo tackles…Touched the ball 310 times for 1,507 all-purpose yards, finishing fourth in the conference with an average of 115.92 yards per game…Ran for over 100 yards in five contests and had multiple rushing touchdowns in four games…Line got Southern Methodist off and running with a pair of rushing touchdowns in the second quarter in a 52-0 victory over Stephen F. Austin, as he scored on 1- and 3-yard attempts en route to generating 60 yards on 19 carries and 39 yards on four grabs…powered his way for 104 yards on sixteen attempts and caught five balls for 35 yards vs. Texas A&M…The senior had his lowest total of the season with 44 rushing yards, but his 21-yard touchdown, which opened SMU's scoring, was a work of art. He powered through the middle of the line, bowled over one tackler, escaped from two others and spun around to run the rest of the way vs. Texas Christian…Totaled 177 yards on 28 carries and 27 yards on three grabs vs. Tulane, followed by 22 attempts for 113 yards and two scores vs. Houston…Produced 127 yards with a 5-yard touchdown on 12 tries, also snatching three tosses for 23 yards vs. Memphis for his third consecutive 100-yard rushing effort…Ran for a 3-yard score, as he toted the ball 22 times for 92 yards vs. Southern Mississippi…Rushed 19 times for 94 yards and a pair of scores vs. Rice and ended the regular season with 3, 3 and 10-yard touchdowns on 23 carries for 81 yards vs. Tulsa…Closed out his career with nineteen totes for 71 yards and a score in a 43-10 rout of Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Line earned first-team All-Conference USA, despite suffering a foot injury in the Navy game that forced him to miss the last three games of the season...Still led the league and ranked seventh in the nation in rushing with an average of 122.4 yards a game and 5.88 yards per rushing attempt...Posted eight 100-yard rushing games in the ten games he played in...Ranked ninth nationally and first in C-USA in scoring with 10.20 points per game...His 1,224 rushing yards rank ninth on the SMU season-record chart, as he carried 208 times…His seventeen touchdown runs tied Chris Johnson of East Carolina (2007) for ninth on the league annual record chart and also tied Redman Hume (1927) and Eric Dickerson (1982) for second on the school season-record chart, topped by only the nineteen scoring scampers by Dickerson in 1981…The Doak Walker Award semi-finalist (nation's top running back) caught fifteen passes for 139 yards (9.27 ypc) and he also recorded three tackles with a forced fumble for the special teams coverage unit…His 102 points scored ranked ninth in the nation and tied Dickerson (1982) for third on the SMU annual record chart, topped by Dickerson's 114 points in 1981 and 109 by Redman Hume in 1927…Opened the season with 128 yards and a score on 22 tries vs. Texas A&M, followed by 20 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns vs. Texas-El Paso…Line tallied 85 yards on sixteen attempts while setting school game-records with five touchdown runs and 30 points scored vs. Northwestern State, breaking the previous marks of four touch-downs and 24 points by eleven other Mustangs, most recently by ShanDerrick Charles vs. Texas-El Paso the previous week vs. Texas-El Paso…His five touchdown runs also tied the Conference USA record he shares with seven other players (most recently by Austin Davis of Southern Mississippi vs. Alabama-Birmingham in 2008)…Scored three more times the next game, vs. Memphis, as he generated 136 yards on 20 tries…Added 21 runs for 120 yards vs. Texas Christian and powered his way for 163 yards on 22 attempts vs. Southern Mississippi…Produced 118 yards with a score on 22 carries and 51 yards on three grabs vs. Tulsa…Rushed 25 times for 143 yards while finding the end zone three times vs. Tulane…His season would come to an end after he tore a tendon in his toe vs. Navy, leaving that contest after gaining 135 yards on 24 attempts.

Line started twelve of the fourteen games he appeared in, earning All-Conference USA first-team honors, as he carried 244 times, the fifth-best season total by a Mustang, on the way to leading the league and ranking 14th in the nation with an average of 106.71 rushing yards per game…His 1,494 yards on the ground rank ninth on the conference annual record chart and placed second in school annals, as the only SMU player to amass more yards was Eric Dickerson in 1982 (1,617)…Ran for ten touchdowns and gained 100 yards rushing in seven contests…Caught seventeen balls for 163 yards (9.59 ypc) and posted five solo tackles…Touched the ball 261 times for 1,657 all-purpose yards, an average of 118.36 yards per game…Rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns vs. Alabama-Birmingham…With 17 rushes for Texas Christian, Line totaled 139 yards a touch-down...Scored twice on 23 carries for 177 yards at Tulane...Added 106 yards on 19 tries vs. Houston...Notched a career-high 202 rushing yards (tied for eighth on the school game-record list) and a score on 30 attempts vs. Marshall...At East Carolina, Line tallied a pair of touchdowns and 123 yards while carrying 30 times...Rushed for 103 yards on 17 carries in the Armed Forces Bowl vs. Army.

Used as a short-yardage back and lead blocker, Line started six of the thirteen games he played in for the Mustangs…The true freshman had just 49 attempts for 189 yards (3.86 ypc), but found the end zone seven times on the ground…Made ten catches for 68 yards and chipped in on special teams, recording fiver tackles (4 solos) and causing a fumble.

2009 Season…Bothered by a staph infection during spring drills, an issue that carried over from his high school playing days.
2010 Season…Line was hospitalized after the Texas Christian game (9/24) due to staph infection that developed in his arm pit, but was back playing in the Mustangs' next game vs. Rice (10/02), despite being released from the hospital a day before SMU faced the Owls.
2011 Season…Tore a tendon in his toe vs. Navy (11/12), missing the rest of the season (vs. Houston, Rice and Pittsburgh)…Underwent toe surgery and had his foot placed in a boot for four months.

4.77 in the 40-yard dash…1.63 10-yard dash…2.73 20-yard dash…4.28 20-yard shuttle…11.86 60-yard shuttle…7.14 three-cone drill…30 ½-inch vertical jump…9'3" broad jump… Bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times…30¾-inch arm length…8¾-inch hands…73 3/8-inch wingspan.

Line attended Oxford (Mich.) Area Senior High School, playing football for head coach Bud Rowley…Starred as a tailback and linebacker…Received a two-star prospect ranking from both and as a middle linebacker…As a senior, the All-State, All-Flint Metro League and Class II All-Area choice recorded 154 tackles with eight forced fumbles and four recoveries in 2008…On offense, he rushed for 1,723 yards with seventeen touch-downs and also threw for three scores…Finished third in his wresting weight class in the state championships…Had a team-high 154 tackles with eight forced fumbles and four recoveries... Rushed for 1,723 yards and 17 TDs... Also threw for three TDs... An All-State pick…Enrolled at SMU in January as a grayshirt; Prep: Had a team-high 154 tackles
with eight forced fumbles and four recoveries… Rushed for 1,723 yards and
17 TDs… Also threw for three TDs… An All-State pick; Personal: a business
and political science pre-major.

Business and Political Science major…Resides in Oxford, Michigan.

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