Zach Gaines: No Ordinary Tiger

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LIVINGSTON, Ala. After his junior season of high school football, Zach Gaines decided to post a video of him punting on YouTube in hopes of generating the attention of college scouts.

With the help of his head coach, he assembled a prospect video and posted it on YouTube. The video, which still exists today and has over 7,000 views, shows why Gaines made the Alabama Class 5A All-State team his junior season. Early in the video, one of Gaines' punts has a hang time of 4.8 seconds followed by efforts that cover 65, 68, 65, 68 and 73 yards.

Soon after Gaines posted the video, NCAA Division I football programs started knocking on his door.

“Coaches would tell me ‘Hey I just got a text from this school’ or ‘I just got a text from Georgia,’” Gaines said. “Growing up everyone wants to play for a big university so finally knowing I was going to be getting that attention was pretty cool.”

His video grabbed the attention of former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Auburn special teams coach Scott Fountain. The Tigers were so impressed, they offered Gaines a spot as a preferred walk-on.

“I never wanted to get complacent though,” Gaines said. “I knew that just because I had the attention, I needed to work harder to not only impress but get better.”

Gaines headed into his final football season at Calera with such mindset. But during game one of the season, everything changed. While playing defensive back, Gaines tackled a player who fell down on top of his leg as it twisted in the wrong direction. It had been broken in two places.

“I got selfish for a few days after the injury. I got surgery on my leg and was like ‘why me,’” Gaines said. “I knew that it was for a bigger reason. I knew that somewhere up above something was telling me ‘Hey there’s a path so believe in it.’”

After Gaines fractured his leg, Auburn retracted their offer. But it wasn’t long before another program came knocking at his door.

In February 2016, Gaines joined a new Tiger team after signing to play at UWA. Not only did he have the opportunity to play at the next level, but he would be doing so with the same program his father and grandfather once played for.

“It’s pretty cool that I get to play at the same place they did,” Gaines said. “I get a lot of attention from it. My grandfather’s actually in a team picture out in the lobby of the field house so I get to see that every day.”

Once viewed as a moment of pain and frustration, Gaines’ now looks back on his injury in new light.

“There’s something that happens for a reason and I truly do believe that,” Gaines said. “Coach Gilliland and the coaching staff took a gamble with me by giving me another opportunity and I couldn't be more thankful for it.”

Gaines currently leads NCAA Division II football and the Gulf South Conference in punting, averaging 49.6 yards per punt.