Tait set to return after 'redshirt' season Tait set to return after 'redshirt' season Barton Simmons Rivals.com Football Recruiting
The recruiting road for the class of 2009 is about to hit rush hour. As February rapidly approaches, official visits will begin dominating every weekend, classes will fill up and commitments will come flowing in. Throughout the chaos of it all, Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic offensive lineman Zak Tait
will be watching from the sideline, much as he has been watching his teammates from the sideline for the past year. Zak Tait will get another opportunity to get his name on the national map.
Following his sophomore season, Tait was named to Rivals.com's 100 to watch list for the class of 2009. He was projected to be one of the top recruits in the state of Tennessee and potentially a nationally recruited player as a guard. But halfway into his junior season, Tait suffered a devastating knee injury, tearing an anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament.
The seriousness of the injury forced him to miss the rest of his junior season, and he would have been forced to miss much of his senior season as well. But because of a unique ruling and some creative thinking, Tait "redshirted," sitting out of school for the rest of the 2007-2008 academic year and reclassifying in the class of 2010.
This season, as a junior once again, Tait has been ineligible to play, but he has continued to work hard to get back on pace to become one of the most dominant linemen in the region. Last week, his hard work was validated with his first official scholarship offer.
"I got offered by the University of Colorado," Tait said. "I talked to Coach [Joe] Bever [offensive graduate assistant] and they said it should be in the mail in about a week. It feels really good because all you need is one. You just need one. As long as I get the opportunity to play in college, I'll be happy. I just got to make it there."
At 6 feet 4 and close to 300 pounds, Tait was expecting to have many more offers at this point. Now teammate Daniel Hood
is closing in on the end of his recruitment with more than 25 scholarship offers from around the country.
Those types of offers and numbers may still come for Tait, but it will be on a different time frame.
"It was real exciting for him to finally get an offer," Knoxville Catholic defensive coordinator Kevin Smith said. "He's had to sit back and watch Daniel Hood get up to 26 offers. It's tough on a kid mentally when he was one of the top-tier prospects. That's really got him jacked up and ready to keep rehabbing." The rehab process itself was amazing. Every time I went to see the doctor, I was a step ahead of where I was supposed to be. - Zak Tait
An extra boost of motivation may not be necessary for Tait, who has been exceeding expectations throughout the rehabilitation process. "The rehab process itself was amazing," Tait said. "Every time I went to see the doctor, I was a step ahead of where I was supposed to be. I guess I was a natural healer."
Tait now is back to 100 percent and could strap on the pads for Friday night's third-round playoff game if he was eligible. For now, though, he will just have to keep waiting until he finally gets an opportunity to compete again. That first opportunity will come at the U.S. Army All-American Combine in San Antonio.
"He's real jacked up about [the combine]," Smith said. "He's really looking forward to it. He's putting in the time to get ready out at practice, doing sprint and agility work. He just wants to get in front of somebody else and compete and show what he can do."
The rehab process has been long and difficult, and he has had to watch his teammates play without him for more than a year now. In that time, Tait has been able to find different ways to improve − and more than just physically.
"When it first started, it was very difficult for me to just watch and not be able to get out in the pads and help the team," Tait said. "I was able to adjust quickly. I had to step up as a vocal leader. I'm doing my job to try to get them excited and focused."
His coaches have noticed the difference.
"His thought process was, 'I'm going to be better than I was,' " Smith said. "He's come to work every day. He's become more of a team leader. We've asked him to take more of a leadership role. He's in the locker room before the games getting them quiet and getting them focused. At 16 years old, he has really matured and grown up."
Tait has made some strong gains on the physical side, too. He bench-presses 185 pounds 35 times. He is back to doing full lower-body workouts and has been participating all season in unpadded drill work with his team.
"Strength-wise, I'm better than I ever was," he said. "My bench has really come through for me. Speed-wise, I'm coming back really well. It's been a slow process, but it's been a good one."
Along with Colorado, Tait has attracted the most attention from Alabama and Georgia Tech. But more than 20 schools have expressed plans to stop by in the spring for further evaluation.
If his improvement continues on its current pace, Tait will be right back on track − heading into his senior season with a lot of options and a lot of potential.