You undoubtedly remember the name Zach Calzada.
He was an Under Armour All-American coming out of Lanier High School in Sugar Hill, Ga who took over the starting quarterback position at Texas A&M in Week 2 of 2021 following an injury to Haynes King and led the Aggies to a win over Colorado.
National attention soon surrounded Calzada, then a sophomore, when he was named the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose National Player of the Week for leading the Aggies to a 41-38 win over No. 1 Alabama. However, roster injuries derailed the Aggies season, and they declined an invite to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl due to the spread of COVID-19 amongst an already depleted roster.
Calzada dislocated his shoulder against Auburn and entered the transfer portal following surgery during the offseason. Ironically, he announced his decision to transfer to the Tigers a few weeks after the season. Unfortunately, Calzada needed another surgery after re-injuring his shoulder early in fall camp.
Now, the one-time 3-star and consensus top-20 quarterback in his high school class with a lauded rocket arm is the starting quarterback for Incarnate Word. Yes, the same Cardinal program that has watched Cameron Ward and Lindsey Scott Jr. over the last three years. Ward won the Jerry Rice Award after his outstanding freshman season. Lindsey Scott Jr. tore up every FCS defense last year on his way to winning the prestigious Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in FCS.
Calzada brings a high level of expectation to UIW that neither Ward nor Scott received. Part of the expectation is due to the success of the previous signal callers. An appearance in the national semifinals will always create greater expectations for the entire program. Calzada is also one of only two quarterbacks to defeat the Crimson Tide during the 2021 season, and the other one won two national titles at Georgia and was the 128th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Calzada has dealt with high expectations his entire football career, and that leadership will be valuable for a UIW squad with so many transfers on the roster.
“He brought some baggage with him with where he came from and what he’s been able to do in college football,” UIW coach Clint Killough said during the team’s Media Day Saturday. “But the humility that he brought with him was tremendous, and he’s grown in terms of being a leader.”
However, Killough didn’t simply hand the offense over to Calzada. The Cardinals had a competition that included three former FBS players, Calzada, Ryan Stubblefield (East Carolina), and Richard Torres (Nebraska).
“The guys that were in the locker room weren’t just going to hand him the keys to the car because they (are) building something through blood, sweat, and tears, and they care about this place,” Killough said. “He’s earned (the position) through his work ethic over the last eight months. He’s starting to come into his own and master this offense.”
“The success that was had here last year goes into that culture that was set, and we’re looking to take that next step,” Calzada said. “This is a new team in a new year, and I’m excited to be a part of it with my guys.”
Calzada must remain healthy. That is obvious and part of why the coaching staff brought in two other quarterbacks capable of leading the offense. It’s unfair to compare him to Ward and Scott, who are dual-threat quarterbacks.
The Cardinals won’t be able to rely on Calzada’s wheels to save the offense when under pressure. However, UIW’s offense isn’t reliant on a dual-threat quarterback. The Cardinals offensive line provided enough time for Scott to throw for 4,686 yards and 60 touchdowns last year.
UIW has built a solid program, and that work began under Eric Morris in 2018. Killough has been on the coaching staff throughout the building process. For Calzada, it’s a good thing he’s used to publicity and expectations. He begins the season on the Walter Payton Award watch list. The Cardinals will need all his experience to reach the FCS national title game in Frisco.
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