Stephen F. Austin redshirt senior quarterback Zach Conque started his college career with UTSA in 2013. He began his football life years earlier.
His father, and current SFA head coach, Clint Conque, was head coach at Central Arkansas for 14 seasons before arriving in Nacogdoches prior to the 2014 season.
As an undergraduate, the current coach was a defensive standout for Nicholls State in the early 1980s (the Colonels joined the SLC in 1991). He began his coaching career at McNeese State, whom his SFA Lumberjacks face this Saturday in their conference opener at 7 p.m. ET on ASN.
“When I transferred from Texas-San Antonio, I made the decision that I wanted to play in the Southland Conference,” said Conque. “Because of the tradition it has and being around it so much, I wanted to play within the conference. I think that it’s an advantage for me, and it gives me some extra insight.”
Despite first appearances, the arrival of the two at SFA three seasons ago was not planned.
“When I decided to transfer, the Southland was the goal. I had a couple of schools that I focused on. The crazy thing was when I decided to leave my father was still at UCA. That wasn’t one of the schools that I was looking into. One thing led to another — I decided to leave, and then he ended up getting the job at SFA. I was still skeptical of whether I wanted to play for the old man or not,” said Conque, laughing.
“That’s the decision that I made and looking back it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made – to play for him, be around my family, and play great quality football as well.”
The ‘Jacks would agree. Conque threw for 1,900 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015. The team struggled, and finished 4-7. This year they were routed in their opening game at Texas Tech but bounced back last weekend to defeat DII West Alabama at home.
“At Texas Tech, throughout the game we got better and better offensively. You get to West Alabama, and the offense struggled. We all know we can do better. Our biggest challenge and what we want to see ourselves do is to be more efficient and to be more effective,” said Conque.
“I’m not saying we have to go out there and throw for 500 or run for 500, but just be effective with the football and be smart and don’t do anything to shoot ourselves in the foot.”
The game is also the Southland opener for the Cowboys. Like SFA, McNeese is 1-1 after beating a DII opponent (Tarleton State) and falling to an FBS (UL-Lafayette) team to start their season. Last year, the Cowboys went undefeated in the regular season and 10-1 overall. Their only loss came to conference rival Sam Houston State in the playoffs.
“What you see is what you get,” said Conque, when asked to describe a defining characteristic of Southland football. “There are no bells & whistles or window dressing. It’s man on man and you’re going to beat the man in front of you or you’re not.”
The redshirt senior is now a graduate student studying history after earning his degree in communications with a history minor this past May. In June, he spent time refining his quarterback credentials at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. He was one of only 30 Division I quarterbacks invited to attend the four-day camp on the Nicholls campus.
“It was great — the overall experience of getting to spend time with like-minded people. We all had aspirations to lead our team to win and hopefully play at the next level. It was good to get around those guys and experience that commonality among us,” said Conque.
“There’s nothing better than learning from the best of the best and that’s the Manning family. With Archie, Peyton, Eli and all them, they’ve been around the game so much that’s all they know. That’s something I could tap into, being a coach’s son and being around it ever since I came out of the womb.”
Conque will pursue professional football opportunities if they present themselves, “Whether that be for a month, three months, three years or 10 or 15 years.” He has a plan B. With a degree already in hand, the signal caller has a teaching and coaching career in mind at the far end of his football playing days.
He’ll pass on a keen knowledge of the game and its history in a state where football tradition is arguably more storied than anywhere in the country.
“It’s like a revolving door down here – Texas is one of the prime spots in the nation for football at the high school and college level. That’s something you don’t really think about until you stop and reflect on it,” said Conque.