Prep Football: Carson's Zack Gragg to Methodist
By Mike London
CHINA GROVE — Carson quarterback Zack Gragg’s negatives are obvious to every fan — he’s not tall, and he’s not a sprinter.
His positives are more subtle, but they’re definitely there. He can throw, he can lead, he’s tough, and his firm grasp of offensive X’s and O’s makes him a teenage Steve Spurrier.
“Zack works at it, watches a ton of film,” Carson coach Mark Woody said. “He showed up on Sundays for our coaches’ meetings.”
Give Methodist University credit for looking beyond the tangibles and finding a football player. Gragg, who has overcome reconstructive knee surgery, will wear the green and gold of the Division III Monarchs next fall.
Woody is happy on several levels. For one thing, Gragg means a lot to him. He wasn’t the most talented Cougar, but he was as important as any athlete in the program’s steady climb from very weak to very good.
Woody is also pleased with Gragg’s college choice because new Methodist head coach Dave Eavenson will always be welcome at Carson.
“When Dave was an assistant, he was the first college coach to ever set foot on our campus to talk about our guys,” Woody said. “I like to tell our kids that.”
One of Gragg’s strengths is his ability to look in the mirror and realistically assess his strengths and weaknesses. He’s 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, so he’s understood for a while that if he was going to be a factor in college, it would be at a small school.
Western Carolina expressed interest in Gragg joining the program as a walkon, but his chances of ever playing there were slim.
Methodist was the first school to show serious interest — when he was a junior — and the Monarchs remained the most persistent suitor during and after his shiny senior season.
“All along, they’ve been, by far, the heaviest recruiters,” Gragg said.
Salisbury tight end Riley Gallagher is also headed to Methodist. Before Gragg visited Methodist (he traveled to Fayetteville along with Concord linebacker Tevin Barnes) he received a text message from Gallagher.
“Riley told me I was going to love the place, and he was right,” Gragg said.
Gragg has spent the winter and early spring preparing himself for the rigors of college football.
It was a difficult decision not to play baseball because he would’ve been a starter in the outfield, and a lot of his friends are on the team. Instead of hitting curveballs, he lifts weights daily. He throws footballs when he can find a quality receiver.
“It’s hard to get Riley,” Gragg said with a smile. “He’s busy, works all the time.”
Gragg was never regarded as a can’t-miss prospect. Then he shattered his knee.
“He’s a kid who quietly showed faith, Woody said. “He never said, ‘Why me?’ He just went about doing what he had to do to get back on the football field.”
Rehab erased Gragg’s sophomore season, and he was still battling for the starting job early in his junior year. He took a beating at Salisbury — Carson lost 50-6 — but he kept getting up and kept fighting, and Woody knew he’d found his leader.
As an all-county and all-conference senior, Gragg directed a 42-27 victory against Salisbury, the eventual 2A state champion. That’s the signature win in school history, but it was just one of the highlights of Gragg’s season. Even on a run-first team — when you have Shaun Warren, you run the ball — he completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,860 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Gragg threw for a school-record 329 yards when the Cougars beat Hickory 45-33 in the first round of the 3A playoffs and 241 more in the loss to Concord in Round 2.
“Zach is truly a leader,” Woody said. “Lots of people talk about being leaders, but he is one. People will follow him, and, believe me, those kids are hard to find.”
It’s no shock that Gragg wants a college education to lead to a career in physical therapy.
“I’d like to be able to change some lives, to help players get back on the field the same way people helped me,” Gragg said.
For now, there’s still some football to be played.
Maybe there will even be a Gragg-to-Gallagher touchdown pass down the road.
“You always want to find the right fit for your guys, and Methodist should be a good place for Zack,” Woody said. “I believe he’ll be a player for them.”