CHARACTER COUNTS NOMINATIONS

Peoria Liberty football player determined to get back on the field

Aug 27, 2018, 7:27 AM | Updated: 11:28 am
(Twitter Photo/@kevinmccabecbs)...
(Twitter Photo/@kevinmccabecbs)
(Twitter Photo/@kevinmccabecbs)

PHOENIX — Just by looking at him, you probably couldn’t tell Liberty senior lineman Zach Hunzinger is battling more than just opposing defenses.

In March, Hunzinger was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancer that begins in the bones, after doctors discovered a softball-sized mass in his knee. He was set to visit Air Force with the hopes of living out his dream.

Already grieving, it was yet another big blow for the Hunzingers.

“My mom was recently diagnosed with cancer and was given four weeks to live in March of this year,” Hunzinger’s mother, Megan, said.

“The day before they buried my mom we found out that Zach had a mass on his knee so he went to her funeral in crutches and the next morning we were at Mayo running tests.”

But just like on the football field, fighting to gain the upper hand, Hunzinger was ready to get to work.

“As soon as he found out he had osteosarcoma, he was like ‘OK, let’s go, what do we need to do? Let’s get through. I want to play football,'” his mother said.

After going through chemotherapy, the mass is now the size of an avocado. Hunzinger’s next step is undergoing knee replacement surgery, which will take about 20 percent of his knee cap out, on Friday.

“It’s going to be a rough road ahead with the rehab and the new knee and the running and getting all his football steps back but he can do it,” Megan Hunzinger said.

“His strength, his determination, just to beat it is unbelievable. I’ve never seen anybody like that before.”

The surgery alone is expected to take around four hours, while the rehab process is estimated at six months. Then, yet another round of chemotherapy.

And even though the work to get back will be strenuous, Hunzinger isn’t letting that crush his dreams.

“My goal and my dream is to play college football and I hope I can,” the senior said. “I’m probably going to try to walk-on somewhere like ASU because that’s my favorite college football team.

“Mainly my goal is rehab it the best as I can and get a lot of my strength back. Do everything possible to get back to normal again.”

Hunzinger isn’t limiting himself to just football, however, as he has his sights set high on another goal.

“I always wanted to fly planes when I was little,” Hunzinger said. “If college doesn’t go the way I want it to be I’m just going to edit it out. I’m just going to go on the route of flying planes or helicopters. One of the two.”

One way to help keep his mind off things is getting back to the football field.

“I go to practice everyday and the team makes me feel like I’m actually playing,” the lineman said.

The lineman dons No. 50, a number that has gained much more significance for he and his loved ones since the diagnosis.

“I saw his Twitter post the other day,” Megan Hunzinger said. “It read ‘the number on the left, No. 5, represents how many times a day I tell myself I’m going to beat cancer. And the number on the right, zero, means how many times I’m not going to let cancer beat me.'”

Hunzinger’s plan is to make every game, with one exception: Friday, the night of his surgery.

Penguin Air
character counts

Character Counts is a registered trademark of the Josephson Institute.

Character Counts Nominations

Kaiya De Silva (Photo courtesy Kaiya De Silva)...
Zach Larson

Mountain View golf’s Kaiya De Silva takes school spirit to another level

Kaiya De Silva, a Mountain View High School senior, takes pride in helping recognize all of her Toro classmates and their contributions.
5 days ago
...
Zach Larson

Mountain View pom captain Kayla Smith takes leadership beyond high school

Mountain View High School is historically one of the best schools in terms of athletics. The Toros' pom team is no different.
13 days ago
Andrew Roe (Photo courtesy Andrew Roe)...
Zach Larson

Notre Dame Prep LAX player uses experience with juvenile arthritis to help others

Andrew Roe, a senior at Notre Dame Prep, is not only a dominant lacrosse player. He's also fighting for those with juvenile arthritis.
27 days ago
Noah Larson (Courtesy Noah Larson)...
Zach Larson

Northwest Christian’s Noah Larson uses his faith to be best role model

Being as social as Northwest Christian's Noah Larson is has made him aware of different problems others deal with.
1 month ago
Photo of Pia Sachdev (Courtesy Pia Sachdev)...
Zach Larson

Rancho Solano’s Pia Sachdev uses time to paint shoes for young patients

Rancho Solano student Pia Sachdev has grown a passion for painting and customizing shoes for kids at Phoenix Children's.
2 months ago
(Red Mountain High School/Facebook)...
Zach Larson

Red Mountain’s Jaimie Rusnak uses sewing as a way to give back

Jaimie Rusnak has given back by turning to one of her passions out of the classroom and off the world of sports.
2 months ago
Peoria Liberty football player determined to get back on the field