COTTON BOWL Perfect life? For Western Michigan's Zach Terrell, it's all academic
Earlier this month, Terrell was named the winner of the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is presented annually to college football’s top scholar-athlete.
So, what’s it like to be the smartest guy in the room?
“Yeah, I said at the news conference that I fooled everybody,” Terrell said with a laugh Tuesday as the Broncos prepare for Monday’s Cotton Bowl meeting with Wisconsin. “People that know me will say, ‘Really, he won an academic award? There’s no way.’ I’m close to getting my MBA and my teachers are probably saying, ‘That kid?’
Terrell had a 3.66 GPA in earning his bachelor’s degree in 3½ years and has a 4.0 while pursuing his master’s in business. At the award’s dinner in New York City on Dec. 6, he met other finalists who had majors like pre-med that he considered more challenging than business.
“Most people don’t know about the Campbell award and that night,” Terrell said of the National Football Foundation dinner that includes the induction of hall of fame classes. “I didn’t know about the award or that dinner and I was blown away. Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow, two of the players I followed growing up, were there.
“I tried to soak up every minute. It was an honor to be one of the finalists. I was honestly shocked I won.”
Terrell is not just a geek in shoulder pads. A 6-2, 205-pound senior, he has had a season as remarkable as the team. Terrell has completed nearly 71% of his passes for 3,376 yards for 32 touchdowns. In 349 attempts, he has just three interceptions.
Terrell also completes the quarterback cliché. He’s engaged to marry Maggie Crain in July. She’s a Western Michigan graduate and — you guessed it — she’s the former captain of the team’s cheerleading squad.
"I had to fit that stereotype, that mold that everybody puts with quarterbacks," Terrell told ESPN.com in October. "I got myself an absolute gem and I knew I had to lock it down or she would soon enough figure it out and leave me."
The way that Terrell’s relationship with peripatetic coach P.J. Fleck started, there was a chance that Terrell would be the one leaving. Both coach and quarterback said that first impressions weren’t great.
“Literally, I just told him, look, you're quiet,” said Fleck, who never stops talking. “You don't talk. You don't communicate. You are kind of a mute. I don't see a lot of pizzazz from you. Your body language spells this, this, and this.
He said, "No, no, Coach. You got it all wrong. You got it all wrong. I'm not like that. Just give me a day or two to prove it." Then it went overboard. The next day he was — it was like almost not him. I'm just proud that he stuck around, and the rest is history. Because I think he is one of the best if not the most prolific quarterback in the country in 2016.”
Terrell admits that Fleck’s hyperbolic approach with his mottos and gimmicks were too much to handle at first.
“The best way to describe it is that we didn’t understand each other,” said Terrell, who along with Fleck endured a 1-11 season in 2013, their first year together. “I was shocked at what he thought about me. I didn’t understand about what ‘row the boat’ had to do with being a Bronco. It took me awhile to understand that it’s a mantra, it’s a way of life.”
Terrell had a Boy Scout’s mentality about his career and that’s the focus for completing a perfect season with a Cotton Bowl victory.
“I wanted to leave the program, the school, the city of Kalamazoo better than when I found it,” he said. “The game with Wisconsin is another opportunity to make ourselves proud but to make the school proud. So far we’ve done that. We want to leave a legacy people will remember about.”
Above: Zach Terrell has completed nearly 71% of his passes for 3,376 yards for 32 touchdowns in leading Western Michigan to a 13-0 record this season. (Courtesy Western Michigan Media Relations)
Middle: Zach Terrell accepts the William V. Campbell Trophy presented to college football’s top scholar-athlete. (Courtesy Western Michigan Media Relations)