Port man joins athletic elite

After starring in two sports at Lakeland University and playing pro football, Zeck inducted into Hall of Fame
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

It was logical that Port Washington’s Nick Zeck would receive Lakeland University’s highest athletic honor.

But getting that phone call is still surreal, Zeck said.

It was spring. Zeck’s wife and two children were participating in an Easter egg hunt at Concordia University Wisconsin, one of Lakeland’s rivals in football and basketball.

Zeck checked his voice mail and his wife asked him why he had a sheepish grin.

The two-sport star was to be inducted into Lakeland’s Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame.

“For probably the first time in my life, I was speechless,” Zeck said. “Just an unbelievable moment of overwhelming happiness and almost disbelief.”

Zeck was a three-time all-conference football and basketball player who said he liked the hitting aspect of football and enjoyed interacting with fans in basketball.

As a defensive lineman, Zeck made the Illini-Badger Football Conference first team twice and earned honorable mention once. A member of the class of 2006, he helped lead the team to conference titles in 2004 and 2005, and the school’s first NCAA Division III playoff appearance in 2005.

In 2004, Zeck had 35 tackles, including 11 for a loss of 55 combined yards, and was second on the team with nine sacks for a loss of 48 yards.

In 2005, Zeck had 36.5 tackles, including 8.5 for a loss of 20 yards, two sacks and a fumble recovery.

One week after football season ended, Zeck would start playing basketball.

As a 6-foot-5-inch center, he was a two-time first team member of the Lake Michigan Conference and led the conference in rebounds and shooting percentage in 2005-06. He finished his career in the top 10 in rebounds.

He was one of four former Muskies inducted, bringing the hall to 172 members.

“I really can’t even put it into words, going into the Hall of Fame for two sports,” he said.

At the induction ceremony, Zeck got help with his speech from youngest son, Tavious. The 1-year-old at one point took his speech from him. Zeck apologized for his children being loud, and then Tavious flashed a big smile and the audience applauded.

“Little moments like that make everything worthwhile,” Zeck said.

After graduating from college with a biology degree, Zeck played nose tackle, defensive end, tight end, center and fullback for the Arena Football League.

He was a member of the Louisville Fire, Georgia Force, Chicago Rush, Milwaukee Iron and Pittsburgh Power, and he played for the Rock River Raptors of the United Indoor Football League.

Zeck said he hadn’t heard of the Arena Football League before he tried out, but “the thought of continuing playing sports was a dream come true,” he said.

The base salary for Arena players was $50,000 for four months. Some receivers made $250,000, he said.

“It’s not the NFL, but to me it’s still playing professional sports,” he said.

As a member of the Georgia Force, the team stayed at the Atlanta Falcons’ facility since Arthur Blank owned both teams. In Pittsburgh, he has access to all the Steelers’ stuff.

“It was like walking into a Foot Locker or Champs. Anything you wanted,” he said.

One of his games with the Rush aired on ESPN, causing old friends to call and ask if that was actually him they saw on TV.

He retired from football in 2011.

Zeck attended Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, where he was 6-4, 220 pounds — not big for a lineman.

He was recruited by Concordia and Lakeland, and his parents loved Lakeland.

He hit a growth spurt in college and  reached 6-6, 295. If that happened in high school, colleges with more prestigious football programs would have come calling.

“Who would have foreseen me growing two more inches and 70 pounds?” he said.

Today, Zeck works in his family owned landscaping company and dabbles in horticultural clubs, including co-founding Ozaukee County Permaculture.

“We’re trying to make the place a little greener within reason,” he said.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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