There are two words that University of Akron wide receiver Zach D’Orazio wants to avoid for the rest of his college career.
They are: injury and prone.
D’Orazio, a 6-foot-2, 213-pound native of Avon Lake, has had a tumultuous transition from quarterback to playing slot receiver in Zips coach Terry Bowden’s spread offense, mostly due to injuries.
As a freshman, a shoulder separation required surgery, and he was redshirted. He broke his fibula last season in the fourth game against Tennessee, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
He hopes that is behind him now.
“Definitely. That’s the last thing I ever want to be labeled,” he said Thursday after practice at InfoCision Stadium. “I always want to be the toughest guy out there and do whatever I can for the team. It was frustrating. Things like that were freak accidents. It’s very frustrating. Now I’m just going out there and trying to be as tough as I can.”
How hard is he trying to avoid getting labeled as injury prone?
About seven weeks after the injury against the Volunteers, he was out running patterns and practicing with former Zips quarterback Dalton Williams. He wanted back on the field, desperately. But the doctors were having none of it. They told him that he would risk further injuries, he said. He thought he could have gone.
“All I wanted to do was play. That’s all anyone ever wants to do,” he said. “Coming out of high school you want to prove yourself, so I had to wait a couple of times to prove that I could play to people back home, people here.
“Everyone was kind of questioning what’s up with this kid. It was frustrating not being able to prove myself, show other people what I could do.”
He ultimately heeded the doctors’ advice and watched from the sidelines as his teammates played out another 1-11 season.
Through the first four games of the season, Zips fans and surely upcoming opponents are well aware of what D’Orazio can do.
He has developed into a consistent threat from the slot position, showing the ability to catch the ball over the middle and when given the opportunity to turn on his jets and score. Witness his 77-yard pitch-and-catch from sophomore quarterback Kyle Pohl last Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Since Bowden’s arrival, the quest has been to find playmakers.
D’Orazio and others have stepped up and look as if they possess the ability to consistently fill the void.
D’Orazio has caught 15 passes for 231 yards for 15.3 yards per catch and four touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy that started with the Zips as a quarterback. Bowden said the staff thought he had a chance to be pretty good when they made the decision to move him. So far they’re looking like geniuses.
“He just gives us a big, physical slot receiver that has better than average speed, very good speed,” he said. “With his background as a quarterback in high school and [being] a coach’s kid, he’s got great football IQ and he knows how to play football, and that’s important in there when he has to work among linebackers and safeties.”
D’Orazio thinks that experience helps, too.
“It helps playing quarterback, knowing where I’m supposed to be at a certain time,” he said. “Knowing when he’s got to get the ball out, getting some pressure. So that helps. We can kind of talk a little more in depth about routes and stuff just because I had an idea of what they’re supposed to be doing.”
But the transition offered its challenges as well. Learning routes and how to run them was one among others.
“It’s really an art form — every position — all the ins and outs of it, coming out of your cuts, breaking down, blocking was the big thing for me,” he said. “I’d never really blocked before so that was probably the most difficult part.”
If he continues the way he has, chances are he’ll become that well-rounded receiver that Pohl needs. He has the coaches’ confidence and his health.
“Things have finally started to go my way a little bit,” he said.
That’s a good thing for Zips fans.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com.