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Growing up with seven siblings helped senior running back Zach Engstrom become the consummate team player

Zac Engstrom, Alta
Zac Engstrom, Alta

SALT LAKE CITY — Being the fourth of eight children may not be the reason Zach Engstrom is such a great teammate, but it was certainly good training for navigating life with 60-plus teammates.

“I am sure it doesn’t hurt,” said the Alta running back, who scored five touchdowns in the Hawks' double-overtime loss to Lehi Friday. “Yeah, it probably helps. Having all of these people around me, and maybe you don’t always get along, but you’re working through it for a goal. … I like having eight kids. I like always having kids around, especially my little brother. But I really love the relationships with my siblings.”

That brotherly love is something Alta head coach Alema Te’o sees in the way the senior treats his teammates.

“He is the ultimate team player,” Te’o said. “He was pretty much in the shadow of Josh Davis last year, but he was an all-state player himself. Zach Engstrom is the real deal.” Trying to fill the void left by last year’s 4A MVP who rushed for 2,645 yards and 28 touchdowns might seem daunting. But Engstrom doesn’t see carrying that burden as something he has to do alone.

“We have plenty of good guys, and together as a team, we can fill whatever he left and be a good team just like last year,” Engstrom said. “Of course I want to be the guy, but I also recognize there are plenty of great players on my team, and they want to make plays too. And I trust our offensive coordinator to spread the ball around, which will help us be a better team.”

Among those teammates are fellow senior fullback Tu’u Afu, who had a 70-yard touchdown run and a key conversion in the first overtime that led to Zach’s fifth touchdown.

“They’re both very explosive,” Te’o said. “They both bring a lot of excitement to the team. Their feet are non-stop moving, constantly driving those knees. Those guys are never going to give up.”

Instead of resenting the attention Davis earned, Engstrom said it presented him with opportunities to excel and learn. “I loved playing with Josh,” Engstrom said. “He’s a great kid and a great player. It was nice, too, because everyone keyed on him. I enjoyed playing with him.”

Te’o said the fact that Davis was a focal point of most defensive efforts allowed Engstrom to have success, even with limited carries.

“He’d have big games for us when people were trying to load up on Josh,” Te’o said. “He was our go-to guy when people started focusing on Josh.”

Engstrom’s older brother Bryan, who was on the sideline Friday night, played the same position for Alta until 2012.

“I wouldn’t say I encouraged him, but he kind of just fell into that role,” Bryan said of his brother choosing the same position. They have a brother between them who opted to play linebacker. “His body type fit it, and it was what he’s most interested in, so he slipped into that role.”

Bryan said his brother is earnest, passionate and committed, but he’s also completely unconcerned about individual accolades.

“He is never uppity about himself,” he said. “He didn’t even know how many touchdowns he scored. He doesn’t care.”

Bryan Engstrom said the siblings are extremely close and competitive.

“We’re used to it,” he said of the constant companionship that comes with a large family. “The unique thing is that everybody is a red personality in our family. Everybody wants to be heard. It’s the loudest dinner table you’ll ever be at. … It’s definitely exciting, and super competitive. … Everything is a competition.”

Bryan said they take their cues on how to lead from their parents. He recounts a time when he was in Little League and criticized a coach. His normally hands-off dad had an issue with that.

“He said he never wanted to hear me criticize a coach again,” Bryan said. “I apologized to the coach. That’s just the way they raised us, to take full accountability.”

Te’o said Zach Engstrom is a spark for his teammates.

“He is extremely passionate about playing football,” the coach said. “He loves to practice. … His effort is relentless. I’m just excited to have him on the team. He’s a great kid to coach.” In fact, Zach Engstrom said his favorite aspect of playing sports is training.

“I think preparing physically, in the gym, getting your body ready to play for the season, I think that’s one of my favorite things,” he said. As for personal goals, he sets them as high as he can.

“I want to be a 2,000-yard rusher like Josh,” he said. “I think after last night, I had a good first performance.”

It’s as much Engstrom’s energy as his actions that inspire his teammates.

“When our other kids see him practice the way he does, when he puts in the type of effort he does, it’s infectious,” Te’o said. “Especially when they see the result.”