With a quick and sudden flick of the wrist, the ball was gone. Running to his left in search of his tight end along the sideline, Zack Livovich caught a glimpse his favorite target breaking open deep down the right side of the field. With time ticking away, and a 61-14 thrashing at the hands of the Penn Kingsmen the year before still fresh in his mind, Livovich turned and let it rip, with a pass that head coach Mark Hoffman described to the NWI Times, as “an absolute Laser across and deep downfield.” Zach Livovich hit Nick Thompson in stride. Thompson finished off the the 64 yard scoring play by diving inside the right pylon for the win.
Junior quarterback Zach Livovich, was making his first-ever start under center, against the Indiana state powerhouse Penn Kingsmen, and completed 17-of-26 passes for 164 yards. He also rushed 16 times for 39 yards in that thrilling 10-9 Valparaiso Vikings win. During his first year as a starter, Livovich led Valparaiso to a 9-2 record and a second round appearance in the state playoffs. In his senior season, with a much younger team around him, the 6’5″/228 lb quarterback still put up a respectable stat line of 85/131 for 1,181 yards, 10 td’s, 1 int, while leading the Valparaiso Vikings back to the state playoffs, after a slow start.
Following his high school career, while running back Matt Handlon was getting recruited to Yale, and Jerrick Suiter was getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates, Zach Livovich was receiving interest from Michigan State, Miami, Purdue, and Louisville. Then suddenly he just dropped off the map. Instead of pursuing major college football, Zach chose a different path. While football was his first love, his passion was elsewhere. Growing up in rural Northwest Indiana, Livovich grew up working around dairy cows, learning everything from how to milk them, to helping deliver baby calves, and spent every summer working at Fair Oaks Dairy Farm near Lowell, Indiana.
After getting his veterinarian degree from Purdue North Central in 2015, Zach went to work full time at Fair Oaks. His primary job is insuring that the cows receive proper treatment and the best onsite medical care possible. His other responsibility is to make sure the cows receive the highest quality, and healthiest feed possible. Evidently Zach Livovich is very good at this too, because Fair Oaks chocolate milk is as good as it gets. While he thoroughly loves what he does, Livovich still has that competitive fire that he must feed, and to satisfy it, he started playing in a Portage, Indiana adult football league in 2014, for a team sponsored by Blythe’s Sporting Goods.
After a game where Zach Livovich lit up Harbor Cheverolet for 528 yards and 6 touchdowns, he was asked by another Valparaiso alum, Scotty Blythe, how it felt to be playing in a competitive environment again. With a smile on his face, Livovich said, “A lot better than just tossing the ball around on weekends with friends and former teammates.” One of those friends include another former Valparaiso Viking standout, Jeff Samardzija, who went on to become an All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame, and currently, a pitcher with the San Francisco Giants. It was Samardzija, impressed by Livovich’s big arm, who helped re-ignite his desire to compete again.
Jeff Samardzija wasn’t the only one with high praise for Zach Livovich, you can also add someone else to the list, one of the players from that day’s opponent, former Washington Huskies linebacker, Justin Thomas. Thomas’s reaction was one of surprise, “This adult football league isn’t just a bunch of weekend warriors trying to relive their glory days. There’s a lot of us guys who played at the college level and still love to compete even now.” Thomas continued, “Zach Livovich shouldn’t be here playing with us, he should at least be out trying to earn a job on Sunday’s. He is raw, but he can sling it with the best I’ve ever gone against.” Perhaps that’s why he has been pitching Livovich’s potential to his former college teammate, current Steelers scout, Mark Bruener.
In February 2015, Justin Thomas, who trains local high school athletes in preparation for the college level, invited Zach Livovich to come train with him at his facility in Merrillville, Indiana. “What Zach really needed the most work on, was to focus on cleaning up his footwork” Thomas said, “On some of his throws outside the pocket, he would have this weird leg kick after the throw, an indication that he wasn’t squaring up his shoulders and was off balance. Despite his dirty mechanics, it was his tremendous arm strength that got the ball to the target.” In addition to his footwork, Livovich needed to improve the touch on his deep ball. Rather than just airing it out, he needed to refine his ball placement.
Thomas is proud of how far Zach has come with his deep ball. “We put several of those big garbage cans 55 yards down field, at different locations, and had Zach throw out of different scenarios, rolling out, extending plays on the run, and from the pocket.” Livovich is now at the point where he can drop it in the bucket 9 out of 15 times, and when it doesn’t go in, he’s hitting those cans.” Justin Thomas went on to say, “When you compare the video from when Zach first got here a year ago to now, well, the kid is ready, I’ve been sending his video to “Brue” since about last March.” Whether it was just to appease his friend, whether he was convinced Zach Livovich was worth a look, or because someone up the food chain sent him, Mark Bruener, on his way to the Combine, stopped off in Merrillville to watch the kid throw the ball.
Mark Bruener came away from the private workout pretty impressed considering how long Livovich has been away from the game. “It’s very obvious that Zack Livovich has all the tools needed to succeed at the highest level of the game.” Bruener explained, “What we need to know is if he is capable of decifering the complicated schemes that he would see in the NFL.” Bruener further explained, “more important is how quickly he can take the information he decifered and apply it, because half a second can mean the difference between a big play and a pick six.”
Bruener’s questions about Livovich’s football IQ were put to rest soon after the field portion of the workout was finished. “Considering that he hasn’t been in a real playbook for 6 years, his football acumen was impressive.” Mark Bruener said, “He understood the concepts and understood what he needed to do, and where to go with the ball on all the defensive formations we drew up on the board.” “Let’s put it this way”, Bruener added, “If I had to choose between Johnny Manziel, or this kid, right now, It would be Zach Livovich hands down, why?, because he can easily make every throw needed, and he loves film study and detail”.
Perhaps what struck Mark Bruener the most about Livovich, was how grounded and humble he is. “This side trip to Merrillville was absolutely worth it to see this kid, this situation kind of has a Kurt Warner feel to it.” Bruener finished with this statement about Zach, “As far as raw ability and tools go, Zach Livovich is as gifted as any quarterback in the upcoming draft, and if he had the experience behind him, who knows how high he’d go.” Apparently Mark Bruener isn’t the only member of the Steelers organization that sees the potential in Zach Livovich. According to Dan Rooney Jr, when he and his father watched the video of the workout, Dan Rooney Sr. was pleased with what he saw. Dan Rooney Jr shared his fathers comments, “Can you believe this, this youngster reminds me a little bit of Danny Marino when he was coming out of Pitt, how good would he be now if he had played college ball?”
Potential means nothing if it’s never realized, which can be very costly for a franchise that spent a high draft pick on a quarterback. If that kind of talent and potential can be picked up with a rookie free agent, it becomes a no risk, high reward proposition. When talent like Zach Livovich falls into your lap in this fashion, and he wants to play for your team, you do what the Steelers did, you give him a basic version of your play book and tell him two things, study up and keep sharpening your skills, and stand by for a phone call as soon as the draft ends. When asked by NWI Times reporter Paul Jankowski about this experience, Zach Livovich still seemed overwhelmed by this opportunity, “The way this all transpired is beyond my wildest dreams, and the only way to describe the feeling is”….April Fool’s Day Steelernation!!!!!!