Zach Strief is the fourth Clermont County high school graduate to play professional football in the National Football League (NFL).
He joins 1975 New Richmond graduate Dwayne Woodruff (head coach Ron Bird) who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, 1981 Milford graduate Napoleon McCallum (head coach George Carl) who played for the Oakland Raiders, and 1999 Milford graduate Rick Razzano (head coach Bob Smith) who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Woodruff graduated from the University of Louisville, McCallum graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and Razzano graduated from the University of Mississippi.
Strief, the son of Douglas and Cathy Strief, graduated from Milford High School in 2001 and Northwestern University in 2005. At Northwestern he received his degree in Communication Studies and Sociology.
By far he is the physically largest Clermont County high school grad to play in the NFL. There have been other Clermont countians who played in the NFL, but graduated from high schools outside the county’s borders.
One Clermont County resident, Ed Biles, whose family lived in Amelia, was a coach for the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints.
Strief is an offensive tackle for the 2006 version of the Saints. He was drafted by the Saints in the 2006 NFL Draft. His draft was in the seventh round and he was the 210th player drafted overall.
At 6-feet, 7-inches and 349 pounds, Strief was the anchor for the Northwestern offensive line. He started 40 games in his last three seasons for the Wildcats. He actually started three games as a freshman. All three full seasons he earned recognition as an All-Big Ten tackle. His senior year he earned recognition as a first team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. He was instrumental in Northwestern becoming just the second team in Big Ten Conference history to average 500 yards per game.
At Milford, Strief earned selection to the All-Southwestern Ohio, All-City, and All-Greater Miami Conference all-star teams as an offensive lineman. He also lettered in basketball as the Eagles' pivot.
Ryan Gladwell, a 6-4, 200-pound stellar center at Amelia High School, faced Strief their senior year. Gladwell was a Fort Ancient Valley Conference all-star and for three seasons was one of the leading shot blockers in Southwest Ohio. He went on to become a starter at the University of Cincinnati Clermont College.
Gladwell said of his Milford adversary, "He was the biggest guy I ever had to play basketball against. You couldn't move him and he was quick for his size. He was really pretty good. I did manage to block a couple of his shots, but I thought I was going to get crushed when I did draw two charges against him."
This writer and photographer Paul Dunaway, himself a superstar athlete and a national record holder in wrestling (pinned 12 consecutive opponents, each match lasting less than 30 seconds), covered the Cincinnati Bengals' game at the Louisiana Superdome that ended in a Bengals' 31-16 victory. Strief made several appearances in the game, in particular on conversion kicks.
It was a somewhat unusual experience for Strief who grew up as a Bengals fan.
"My dad and I had season tickets to the Bengals' games. Draft Day the Saints became my team. It's amazing how fast your devotions can change in one day," he laughed during the post game interview while giving Paul and I a tour of the Superdome.
Always a big young man, Strief did not play organized football until he attended high school, because Milford Youth Football played in league organizations in which there was a weight limit for the players and he was always too big. "I was 120-pounds over in youth football," he said.
With his stellar high school and collegiate football careers behind him, Strief pointed out the highlight of his entire football career was still ahead of him.
"The day I found out I made the (Saints) has been my highlight," he said. "The training camp was a month long. It wasn't any fun. I had doubts about things until when I found out that I had made the team.
"This is one of those things that seems larger than life. This is something that seemed unattainable," he said.
Being a rookie can be a challenge and like most first-year players, number 64 has to spend time on the sideline and pay his dues.
"I did start the Tampa Bay game. I played against Simeon Rice (6-5, 268, Buccaneer defensive end, a perennial NFL leader in sacks). It was so exciting. It was the first game I got dressed out for.
"Just watching a game is nerve wracking. When I'm playing I'm not so nervous because I feel I can control things better."
The Clermont County transplant is enjoying his time in New Orleans. He is currently nursing dislocated and torn tendons on the ring finger of his right hand.
"The people here are amazing people and so friendly," Strief said. "It's an exciting place to be. So much great food and history. I'm comfortable here.
"This team has a lot of characters, though. I'm closest, of course, to the offensive linemen. But the whole team is a really good group. I was originally afraid I'd have to do a lot of adjusting, but it hasn't been difficult."
One of the Saints for whom Strief blocks is 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush who played college football for the University of Southern California.
"Reggie is as quiet as anybody. He's like so many of the rest of us. He's a 21-year old kid living out a dream. He's a good guy. They're all great guys. I enjoy blocking for them."
Rick Mueller, New Orleans' Director of Player Personnel, commented that the Clermont countian was drafted by the Saints because of his "ethics, intelligence, and ability to compete at a high level of competition."
Bob Smith was the head football coach at Milford High School during Strief's prep career. He said, "Zach is a hard-working kid. He set some goals and worked hard for them and they're paying off for him right now. He played both ways for us (offensive and defensive tackle). He is an excellent citizen. I enjoyed him in the classroom and on the field."
Zach Strief remains a Clermont countian at heart.
He said, "I feel I have a responsibility to give back to Milford (High School) and the (Clermont County) community."
Strief has planned to put together for the coming summer a youth football camp that will take place in Milford. He plans to "donate the camp money back to the school and I'll match those funds." He added that the NFL has already made a commitment to match his match.
He has already begun, and quite successfully, getting commitments for camp instructors. They are coming from various NFL teams, including the Bengals and Saints, and former teammates at Northwestern University. He will announce more information about the camp after the holiday season.
"It is always fun for me when I get back home. I have always liked being from Clermont County," he said.