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Nevada’s Madonick happy to be on the field

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

RENO – When asked a few weeks back how his right leg and foot were feeling, Zack Madonick looked down at the leg and foot in question, flashed a grin, looked up and announced, “I’m good. I’m here. I’m standing.”

Those six simple words were something Madonick wasn’t sure he was going to be able to say this season.

“I never thought he’d play one down this year,” Nevada Wolf Pack head coach Chris Ault said recently. “I told our coaches, ‘He’s done. No way Zack is coming back.'”

It’s not that Ault doubted his senior defensive tackle.

“It’s just that he had been through so much,” Ault said. “He couldn’t run for so long because of the knee and then the foot. I didn’t know if he’d have enough time to get back.”

Madonick, who will turn 23-years-old two days after the Pack takes on Southern Mississippi in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, underwent knee surgery in February, a month after the Wolf Pack’s 13-1 season in 2010 ended.

“I told myself I had six months to get back for fall camp,” the Wolf Pack’s starting defensive tackle in 2009 and 2010 said. “That’s all I focused on.”

Madonick got back as promised. And then, less than a week into fall camp, he broke his right foot.

“It was on the fourth day of fall camp,” Madonick said. “I planted my foot and I just felt it snap. I was hoping that it was just in my mind but it wasn’t.”

That’s when Ault figured he better look for a new defensive tackle.

“It was a struggle and it was difficult,” the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Madonick said. “But there was only one thing on my mind. I had to keep working.”

Madonick beat the odds by returning this season in Week 6 briefly against New Mexico. Two weeks later he was making four tackles and batting away a pass against New Mexico State. And the following week he was back starting against Hawaii because Jack Reynoso, who had replaced him in the starting lineup, had broken his leg.

“This whole thing taught me a lot about sticking through all of the hard stuff and continuing to work hard,” Madonick said. “It taught me a lot about myself and what it takes to be successful. It’s something I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”

Madonick, who had 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2009 playing alongside tackle Nate Agaiava and 28 tackles and 1.5 sacks playing next to Brett Roy in 2010, had 16 tackles in the Wolf Pack’s last five games this year. He teamed with Roy to stop Hawaii’s Joey Iosefa for a 3-yard loss and then had a season-high five tackles two weeks later against Utah State.

“I played OK,” said Madonick of his strong effort against Utah State. “But it was our last road game and we lost (21-17) so it was real hard to take. It felt good the way I played but it wasn’t good enough because we lost.”

That’s all you need to know about Madonick. Individual glory never matters to the San Ramon (Calif.) Valley High graduate.

“Zack has always been a team player,” defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks said. “He’s persevered not only through the knee surgery but through the foot injury. He’s never given up and he’s always remained positive and continued to work hard.”

Madonick, who has 73 tackles, four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss in his 39-game Pack career, has always been willing to do the dirty work. His job the last two years has been to stay at home, plug the gap, take on as many offensive linemen as he can and allow pass-rushing demon Roy do his thing.

Oh, he’s had his moments of glory. He had five tackles (one for a loss) against Boise State in 2009. He sacked Utah State’s Diondre Borel in 2008, Fresno State’s Ryan Colburn and San Jose State’s Jordan LaSecla in 2009 and Hawaii’s Bryant Moniz and Colorado State’s Pete Thomas in 2010. His best game was a solid nine-tackle effort in a crucial 35-34 victory at Fresno State last season.

Madonick, though, gets just as much satisfaction and pleasure out of seeing teammates like Roy succeed.

“He’s one of my best friends on this team,” said Roy, who has started 19 games next to Madonick the past two years. “It has been very impressive to see him battle back after all that has happened to him. A lot of people thought his year might be over but he never thought that way. He showed pure determination.”

Roy, the only Pack tackle to stay healthy this season as Madonick, Reynoso and Willie Faataualofa battled injuries, said Madonick was a source of inspiration for him this year.

“Watching him fight through everything is what helps drive me,” Roy said. “Whenever I thought I was tired or sore this year I just looked at him and I realized he’s been through worst things than me 10 fold.”

Madonock simply felt he had no other choice. This, after all, was his senior year. And he certainly didn’t want to spend it on the sideline.

“I had a great support staff of teammates, coaches, friends and family,” he said. “They were all in my corner all the way so I knew I could get through it. I just had to go out and do my part and work as hard as I could to get back and help this team. It was something I knew I had to work for. I’ve put in too much hard to work to not give it my best shot.”

Despite the hardships, it was an experience he will treasure forever.

“You know, sometimes you learn more from the adversity than the good times,” Madonick said. “I definitely learned a lot about myself during all this.”

Madonick, whose first tackle came in the first game he ever played at Nevada against Grambling in 2008, earned a ton of respect from his teammates and coaches by getting back onto the field this year.

“He’s stayed strong throughout everything he’s been through and stayed focused on the task at hand,” Sacks said. “Zack has done a great job stepping in and carrying the flag when we needed him. He’s played hard and was productive. But that’s what we expect out of Zack.”

“He’s as tough a kid mentally as we’ve had,” Ault said. “He just kept working, kept making himself better and he never took no for an answer.

“His determination is inspiring to all his teammates. You really appreciate kids like that who work so hard and pay a price to become part of this program. Those are special kids in my eyes.”

Roy said Madonick is one of the biggest reasons for his success the past two years.

“It’s hard to put into words what Zack Madonick means to me,” Roy said. “Having him next to me on the field is just so much of a comfort zone for me. We know each other so well. I was real close to Jack, too. He’s my roommate. And we were playing so well together. But Zack and I grew up together here. We’ve been through so much together.”

Roy said the Pack defense didn’t miss a beat when Madonick stepped in for Reynoso.

“He’s developed such a strong upper body since he got hurt because that was the only thing he could work on for a long time,” Roy said. “So he’s stronger than ever. His ability to move his man is amazing.

He’s splitting double teams on one leg. That’s amazing.”

The last thing Madonick wants to talk about is how his leg and foot are feeling. He’s not the type to make excuses.

“I’m out there,” Madonick said. “That’s all I care about. I’m as good as I can be right now. So I’m going to keep fighting every second I’m out there. One good leg or two good legs. I don’t care. I’d go out there with nothing if I had to.”