January 27, 2012

Colorado State's Zabor Following His Own Path

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Tylor Zabor (right) is a man of faith, even starting a Bible study group with other teammates at Colorado State. But when he steps on the field, he's not always a saint. "He'll knock your block off, and he might even chirp at you a little bit after he does it," said Rams head coach Alex Smith.
© Colorado State Lacrosse

Swagger. That's probably the kindest descriptor for the Colorado State men's lacrosse program. 'Brash' might be the adjective. They love the big hits, and they aren't afraid to tell you about it. Nothing dirty, mind you; but the Rams like to let their opponents know who's on the field.

Colorado State can get under the skin of other teams – and coaches – especially when the Rams are running hot. Internally, they consider their persona to be an extension of the 'CSU Family' mantra, which they spout in seemingly every other sentence. Their collective ego certainly isn't diminished by the four MCLA national championship plaques located in Fort Collins, which ties CSU with Brigham Young for the most ever.

So one can imagine the odd looks and puzzled glances two years ago when Tyler Zabor, a freshman from Highlands Ranch – a quiet suburb on the outskirts of Denver – showed up at practice and started a Bible study class.

"I'm not sure how much people know about CSU Lacrosse, but we've never been known for being a prayer-group-before-the-game type of program," said head coach Alex Smith. "We've got eight or 10 kids who are very religious guys and that is a very strong value for him. He's the one that takes the leadership role when it comes to all of that stuff."

"I've grown up as a Christian and it's the No. 1 thing about who I am," said Zabor, now a junior. "It's a big part of me as a lacrosse player and as a student. It's just a big part of my life. Me and some of my teammates started a Bible study and it's been fun."

It's also been fun because Zabor isn't a sixth defender sitting on the bench reading scriptures as the rest of the team attempts to make the program's first title game appearance since 2006.

From the start, he's been on the field for the Rams, who drew the interest of Zabor over several eastern Division III programs and a couple of lower-end D-I teams. The CSU coaching staff had to break him of his penchant for throwing ill-advised over-the-head checks when he first arrived, but since then Zabor has been a regular on the field. At the conclusion of the MCLA championships in Denver after both his freshmen (as an LSM) and sophomore (as a close defender) years, he was selected for the all-tournament team.

"He's become a really good positional guy, he's a good slider, he plays the open field and he handles his stick," said Smith, who says Zabor is built like a wrestler. "He can pick on a guy who might not be as strong as he is. We like him to be our traffic cop and control the action a little bit. We can turn him loose and slide to a guy."

Religion, like politics and other hot-button issues, has the potential to drive a wedge between people, especially a group of 45 guys who are focused on one goal. From the day he arrived on campus until now, Zabor's faith, as strong as it is, has never created problems with those who might not have the same convictions.

"They are all super-easy going," said Zabor of his teammates. "I know a lot of us don't share the same faith, but we share the same team, and that's really cool to do. I respect and love everyone on the team, and it's cool to walk through my college career with them."

Smith, who helped build CSU's persona as a player and a coach, wasn't sure what to expect when Zabor first showed how prevalent his faith would be. Now? It's a non-issue.

"He is strong in his belief and he's non-judgmental of other people," Smith said. "He's one of those kids who no one really doubts. He's not putting on a show. He doesn't need anyone else to act like him; he's just doing what he does. People tend to follow him.

"He wasn't elected captain, but in my mind he's a leader of this team in a huge way, and it's not because of that off-the-field stuff. He's very charismatic as a leader. When he grows up, he's going to be in a leadership role whether it's in the business world or whatever he decides to do. As coaches, we call him 'Captain America.' He's the All-American kid. He's the kid you want your daughter to marry."

Zabor has also been impressing people half a world away. This past fall, he went with a church group to an orphanage in Ethiopia to meet many of the starving children he was sponsoring, as well as beginning discussions about building a school in the future. During his two-week stay, for which he had to make up all his school work prior to leaving, Zabor saw a lot of things that don't appear in a sponsor's pamphlet.

"It was a completely different world," he said. "It was my first time seeing real poverty and very real struggles in the world. Obviously, coming back I felt extremely blessed and very privileged to be where I am."

It may sound like Zabor is too good to be true, but he's no saint. When he dons the helmet with the Rams horns and strides on the field, there are no thoughts of orphanages, Bible study or church. He has a job to do and sometimes it means you don't always turn the other cheek.

"He'll knock your block off, and he might even chirp at you a little bit after he does it, but he's never going to take a cheap shot or hurt someone intentionally," said Smith. "In that way, he's everything that CSU Lacrosse is all about."

"I'm obviously still a Christian, but I love to compete and I love to win," Zabor said. "And I love lacrosse. When I'm on the field, I'm definitely competing and sometimes I'm not the nicest guy."

It's not easy being Captain America.

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