Zach Gauthier’s living room looks like the average college athlete’s living room. Within the tight walls, a couch and a chair are facing the television, which is currently flashing “SportsCenter.”
Zach, a 5-foot-10-inch, 200-pound Wildcat linebacker, switches the television off and sprawls haphazardly on the couch, while his wife, Megan, kneels on the floor beside him.
On her lap is the Gauthiers’ one-year old son, Tramon.
The opposite side of the little room is covered in children’s toys and a tiny foam couch sits next to the television. In the hallway of the second-story apartment there is an empty diaper box.
Zach Gauthier, it turns out, isn’t the average college athlete.
“Now that I have a son,” he says. “I take a lot of time to be with him, instead of doing things that most people of my age would be doing.”
Upon closer examination, Zach does do the same things as a few of his peers. He goes to school four days a week and after class he attends football practice, which lasts anywhere from two to three hours. He also holds a part-time job at a GNC, where he will often work 12-hour shifts on Saturdays to pick up a large enough paycheck to support his family.
Any college football player will tell you that this burden alone is a formidable one. The thing that sets Zach aside is that when he gets home at night, he must serve as a father and a husband, as well.
“As far as balancing everything out, I personally don’t know how I do it,” he says. “It’s not fun and I get crabby, but I love it.”
Although Zach may love the responsibility, most of his peers are unable to dream of such a life.
“I couldn’t fathom taking that workload onto my shoulders with a wife and kids, but he does it,” sophomore NMU linebacker Nathan Yelk says. “He’s a proud parent and I’m sure he’s a great husband, too.”
The Gauthiers have always been trailblazers among their peers, though. Zach and Megan met in middle school and then went their separate ways, Zach to Ishpeming High School and Megan to the nearby Westwood High School. They stayed in touch and eventually began dating. The pair got engaged soon after their respective 2004 graduations.
Initially, the couple thought they would wait a while to say their vows, but quickly decided against it. They were married on June 11, 2005-they were both 19.
“Coming out of high school, we just knew it was right for us,” Zach says. “A lot of people would sit there and tell us, ‘Oh, you’re not going to make it.’ A lot of people say things, but how do they know? They don’t know what our feelings are. We knew we loved each other.”
After getting married, Megan became pregnant with their first child and on March 27, 2006 Tramon Zachry Gauthier was born.
With all of the responsibility that Zach must deal with, it may seem a bit strange that he also chooses to throw himself into the hectic world of college football. In reality, the choice was never that difficult to make.
“It never really crossed my mind to stop playing football. I love football,” Zach says. “I want to finish out my football career, because I realize that, after this, if I don’t go on to play for a pro team or something like that, I’ll never be able to do it again.”
Zach, a business management major, also plays football for financial reasons, as well. The Division-II scholarship that he receives doesn’t pay for everything that the family needs, but it covers a great deal.
“If I wasn’t getting that scholarship,” he says. “I wouldn’t be able to play football.”
Some, like Wildcat head coach and Zach’s uncle, Bernie Anderson, feel that football also serves as a stabilizing force for Zach.
“He has made a decision to have a wife and a baby and that’s what he wants at this point in his life,” Anderson says. “I think that may be stabilizing for him. In this situation, his time is in more demand, but his mental stability is probably higher than the average college student.”
Yelk agrees and says that when Zach, who collected 48 total tackles in 10 NMU games last season, puts on his pads, he is completely focused on football.
“With football and a family, I’m sure it keeps him more structured,” Yelk says. “Football is a time to relax, so to speak, and a time to let loose and have fun. He is definitely an upbeat player out there – joking around and having a good time – so I think it does help.”
After his time in an NMU jersey comes to an end, Zach plans to use his business management degree somewhere, but hopes that he will be in a position to continue playing the sport he loves at some level, possibly in the Arena Football League or in a Canadian professional league.
“I would definitely go for something like that,” Zach says. “Football is one of my top priorities and that’s something I would love to do if I could do it.”
And while he lists football as one of his top priorities, Zach wastes no breath when describing how high up his family is on that same list.
When Zach gets free time, which isn’t often, he likes to spend it with his wife and his son.
“When we find some time, we try to do as much as we can together,” Zach says. “The only free time we get, if it’s not a couple of hours at night, is like a spring break-type thing, and we’ll spend it all together. This spring break we went to Green Bay. It’s not much of a trip or anything like that, but it was a nice family thing that we did.”
With the Gauthiers expecting another child in September, hopefully during NMU’s bye week, those priorities are unlikely to change in the future.
The one thing that has changed in the year since Tramon was born, though, is that this time around, the family is more prepared. They know what to expect now and they know the types of sacrifices that will be made along the way.
“He is first priority in our life and I think it’s best that she be with him all day, which is why I’m the one working,” Zach says, motioning toward Tramon, who is toddling across the floor. “I do everything that I do so Megan can stay home with him.”