Zack Conti wanted to play college football, no matter the price. “Football is something I really love, so ever since I got to school, I’ve had to do whatever it takes to stay here and stay in a good position with academics and football and everything,” he says.
Conti is an offensive lineman at Eastern Michigan University, and he is indeed doing “whatever it takes” to stay in school and play football, including working multiple jobs.
His teammates quickly noticed that any time he wasn’t in class or on the field, he was picking up landscaping and demolition jobs. It got to the point where Conti needed to sell his plasma just to pay his bills. “It’s been a grind my whole life,” he admits, “but, I mean, when you really want something, it’s like you do what you need to do to keep it going.”
Conti’s college football teammates often saw him coming to practice straight from work, or leaving right after to go to the next job. Conti was often absent from get-togethers and would turn down offers of after-practice swims.
His teammates also knew that Conti’s mother’s health was failing and that Conti’s stress level was rising as his mom waited to receive a donor kidney. At one point, Conti considered leaving the team. It was becoming impossible to juggle it all.
Fellow lineman Brian Dooley did not want to see that happen. He knew firsthand how hard Conti had to work day in and day out — at school, work, home and on the field — so he approached their coach Chris Creighton with a plan. Creighton was floored when Dooley said he wanted to give his scholarship to Conti.
“That guy has earned it,” Dooley told Creighton. Dooley had discussed it with his family, and it was what he wanted to do. Conti was like a brother to him. Dooley didn’t want to see him struggle this hard.
“I’ve never heard, I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Coach Creighton. The head coach of the college football team says that awarding scholarships is a difficult process and that he’s always asking the NCAA for more money for deserving players. There’s never enough.
Dooley had a full ride to Eastern Michigan University and was nearing the end of his advanced degree. Conti was a walk-on, which meant that he did not get a scholarship. But Dooley saw how much Conti needed it — and how much he deserved it — and was willing to give up his own scholarship to make Conti’s time at Eastern Michigan University a little bit easier.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” he told the university paper, The Eastern Echo. When the coach made the announcement to his team, there was wild cheering as Dooley and Conti’s teammates rushed to hug the two players and congratulate them. During a later press conference, Dooley spoke about his feelings and the strong bond of the football brotherhood. “I feel like Conti would do the same thing [for me],” he said.
“Asking for help is not easy,” Conti said, but still, he knew that his team had figured out what was going on. “It wasn’t really hard to be open to them about anything because I know they’ve got my back.”
Dooley does indeed have Conti’s back, and his gift is one that will keep on giving long after Dooley himself graduates. Transferring his scholarship to his teammate means that Conti will be able to claim it for the rest of his studies, both undergraduate and graduate. The financial help came as a huge relief to the offensive lineman at a time when he needed it most.
“The o [offensive]-line brotherhood is something that is hard to break,” explained Dooley. “We have each other’s back.” He insisted that Conti deserved it.
For his part, Conti says, “It just felt unbelievable, like I felt like my hard work has paid off. I can’t really describe it. You work this hard for this long and you just hope a day like this comes where it’s like you’re finally rewarded. It was a great feeling.” Eliminating the crushing financial pressure that Conti was under means that he can concentrate more on his studies, spend more time with his teammates and help more at home.
Dooley has just a couple classes left before he graduates, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be leaving Conti behind. “He’s a great guy and will probably be the best man at my wedding,” said Dooley. “Our friendship is tight, it’s unbreakable.” Dooley’s gesture changed the trajectory of Conti’s life, and that’s a bond that can never be broken.
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