Zach Lujan thought he would be in law school right now.
Instead, he is in his first season as an assistant football coach at South Dakota State University.
“For me it’s a great situation,” says the Alaska native. “I played here and I understand the system and the coaches know me and respect me and I am able to have a little bit of input. So I’m just trying to learn and do a good job with what I am asked to do.”
Lujan is in charge of Offensive Quality Control for the Jackrabbits. He breaks down film, evaluates play calls and runs the scout team defense.
Really, it is an extension of what he’s been doing for the last three years.
Go back to the summer of 2014:
SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner is coming off shoulder surgery.
Zach Lujan thinks he is going back for his second year at Chabot College in California.
However, SDSU offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness is in need of a quarterback insurance policy.
“Coach E saw something that he liked on film and gave me a call,” says Lujan, who knew about South Dakota State after watching a Jacks playoff game in 2013.
“I was up here the next week and committed the day after that so it was kind of a whirlwind process.”
Three months later the Jackrabbits open the 2014 season at Missouri. The Tigers had gone 12-2 and won the SEC East Division the year before.
In the first quarter… on the Jacks’ 12th play of the season… Sumner goes down with an injury. Lujan, who did not expect to play at all that year, is called into action. He admits he was not ready.
“I didn’t even know where my helmet was. It was on the other end of the field so I had to get that before I started warming up. And I get out there all wild-eyed.”
His first play in a real game as a Jackrabbit is a pass to Jake Wieneke and it seems like a safe way to get going. But Wieneke drops it on third down.
“So I came out of the game,” Lujan recalls, “and everything is going too fast and my mind is all over the place. Wasn’t until I got in the locker room at halftime and saw Sumner and he said, ‘calm down… it’s just football.’ Yeah, just football against the SEC reigning champions.”
The Jacks lose at Missouri 38-18. Lujan completes 21 of 28 passes for 239 yards.
He settles down and settles in over the next two months. He makes the Missouri Valley Conference All-Newcomer team that year and goes 5-2 as a starter until Sumner returns for the last six games of the season.
In 2015, Lujan takes over as the starting quarterback, but he goes down injured midway thru the season. In November, he makes his return in the second half at South Dakota. He leads the Jacks on two scoring drives and SDSU comes from behind to win 30-23.
That performance reinforces Lujan’s growing reputation for being the guy you can count on. Rock Lujan.
That stability and leadership is on full display in 2016, Lujan’s senior season. Taryn Christion, just a sophomore, beats out Lujan for the job as the starting quarterback.
Lujan again becomes the Jacks’ most valuable backup… and their most mature mentor.
“That was kind of my role on the team… the rock… stable no matter what. That is something I really took to heart and embraced my whole time here.”
He finishes his college career with some solid numbers: 3,877 passing yards (just out of the SDSU Top 10)... 29 TDs in 24 games.
Back to now… or at least a few months ago: Lujan is set to go to law school but not necessarily to be a lawyer. He wants to be a sports agent. The law degree will validate him in that profession.
He gets a long ways down that path before he has a change of heart.
“I went and took my LSATs,” he says, “and was fortunate to do fairly well. And then, you know, the more I thought about it and everything went on… I want to coach football.”
He is in the right place at the right time. SDSU just happens to have an opening but he needs the blessing of the head coach. And John Stiegelmeier wants to make sure Lujan is making the right choice.
“He told me to go to law school. And then he laughed at me,” Lujan remembers with a smile.
“So I said, no coach, this is something I am serious about. I’ve obviously been passionate about football and that is something that has always come very natural to me. I think I really understand the game and want to continue to do so. And he said that was awesome and we’d be lucky to have you.”
Lujan could very well be an outstanding attorney/agent at some point in the future. He has an attitude and an aptitude that makes you think he will be very successful in whatever he chooses. For now, that is football. Even though he kinda sounds like a lawyer.
“Fact of the matter is this… I’m a 22-year-old kid who is new to this profession whereas Coach Stig has been here as a head coach about as long as I’ve been alive. So there is a lot to learn.”