North Branch 2013 graduate Zack Sundly closed his high school career with one of the highest honors in high school football: the invitation to play in the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game on Saturday, June 29.
Each player is selected by the members of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association and, all in all, represent 79 schools and 34 conferences.
Sundly, who played quarterback for the Vikings last fall, received a phone call from game director Dave Fritze and North Branch head coach Nick Nitti earlier this spring to inform him of the opportunity to play with the North team.
“I was jacked, and I couldn’t believe it,” Sundly said. “It’s a big honor to play with some of the best players in the state — to be considered one of the best players in the state. I think it had a lot to do with the guys around me senior year though. They worked really hard and the better they blocked, the better I looked.”
By the close of his senior season, Sundly broke the North Branch school record in single-game rushing yardage with 312 yards and also broke the record of touchdowns in a game with five (four rushing and one receiving). His rushing yards on the season totaled 1,866 to add to his career total of 2,731 yards.
Nitti was less surprised by the invite to the All-Star game.
“Zack is very deserving,” the first-year Viking coach said. “I haven’t worked with too many athletes that have the GPA, work ethic and great leadership on and off the field that he has.”
But there was a bit of a hitch. About a week before Sundly was set to report to commence practice for the game, the North team’s head coach, Dwight Lundeen, called Sundly to ask if the quarterback would be comfortable playing running back/full back due to the injury of South Dakota State recruit Bridgeport Tusler, of Osseo, who earned both the Associated Press and Gatorade Player of the Year honors. Sundly said no problem.
“As our quarterback on offense, we ran a double-wing triple option so Zack ran a lot but can throw, too,” Nitti said. “Zack could play anywhere on the field. I’ve been coaching for more than 25 years, and I can’t say that about a lot of kids.”
To prepare for the star-studded matchup, which was also a celebration of its 40th anniversary, Sundly arrived a week early at the campus of St. Cloud State University to undergo six days of two-a-day practices with 30 pages full of plays and formations at Husky Stadium.
When Lundeen’s squad wasn’t practicing, the team members were bonding in Saint Mary Hall, where both teams stayed. The North team resided on the third floor, while South stayed on the second leading up to the game.
“We’d prank each other, nothing stolen or serious, though, just funny,” Sundly said. “That’s the best part about football — there is an instant rivalry with the other team. You’re pretty much enemies right away.”
Come Saturday, Sundly was ready for the showcase, give or take a couple of butterflies in his stomach.
“I was really nervous at first,” the 6-foot-0 and 195-pounder said. “I just didn’t want to let people down and to show that I deserved this chance. There were some big fellas out there, linemen at 300 pounds or so, and I definitely wasn’t the biggest on the field. It was intimidating, but I felt I had something to prove.”
While North put points on the board in the first quarter, they struggled with fumbles and interceptions throughout the remainder of the game. At the end of the first half, South led 10-7.
South took off in the second half, putting up another 14 before an all-star game rule kicked in during the fourth quarter: If a team is down by more than 10 points, they get the ball back. North rallied back to lessen the gap for a final score of 24-14.
Sundly had eight carries for 31 yards – the longest single carry at 11 yard – and one reception for another seven yards.
Lundeen, who is the head coach of 2013 Class AAAA state entrant Becker High School, was unavailable for comment, but called Nitti following the game to let him know Sundly had more than proven himself on the field.
“Lundeen called, just said what a leader Zack was all week,” Nitti said. “He adjusted to a new position to do what was best for the team, and that kids just naturally flocked to him — he said Zack was a real tribute to our football program.”
Sundly plans to attend St. John’s University to play football in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in the medical field.