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ATLANTA, GA – JANUARY 03: Drew Brees #9 and Zach Strief #64 of the New Orleans Saints celebrate as they leave the field after beating the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

With minicamp ending this week, the dreams of players making it onto the roster of the New Orleans Saints is the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, the reality for many is most will not be wearing the black and gold after the final roster cuts in late August. Some may go elsewhere. Others may get the luxury of learning on a practice squad. By the same token, any rookie player drafted late or undrafted would love to follow the incredible story of legendary player Zach Strief.

Zach Strief: Trust, Grind, and a Beautiful Mind

Trust is all Sean Payton Needed

The combination of unwavering trust and an urge to succeed is just a little snippet of what made Zach Strief one of the best offensive linemen to wear the Saints uniform. His road was tough.

Trust is sacred. You can’t buy it. It’s worth is priceless. In like manner, trust was all Sean Payton needed when it came down to drafting an unknown player from Northwestern.

Strief in his own words tells the story of how it happened. He waited for hours not knowing if any team would want him.

“Coach Payton called and that’s a call I’ll never forget. Payton’s first offensive coordinator job was with Miami, Ohio under Randy Walker. Walker was my head coach in college. Coach Payton told me on the phone.”

‘I talked to Randy and he told me I have a guy that will play for you for 10 years. You weren’t on the draft board but I TRUSTED Randy’s opinion and we took a shot on you.’ Strief felt he owed Randy Walker to put it out all out there since Walker does just a month after he was drafted.

Trust gave Strief an opportunity. Opportunity knocked and Strief answered.

Zach Strief was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Certainly, the Cincinnati Bengals weren’t exactly the best team in the NFL. Strief and his dad would attend games regularly. And perhaps the words from his father was never more true to define Zach Strief’s career.

His dad told him this: “Always stay to the end of the game and you never give up on your team.”

Grinding When Nobody is Watching

Surely, this advice served him well during the NFL Combine and hours of auditioning to just to catch someone’s eye. Ironically, the grind of pushing all the way through the final game of the preseason made Strief an asset to the New Orleans Saints.

Eventually, Strief took over the starting role after years of being the backup. Five years of grinding gave Strief the starting job at right tackle. In 2011, he stabilized the offensive line and became a part of one of the best. In 2012, Strief was named team captain and rose up to become an alternate in the 2013 Pro Bowl. Additionally, he played in a total of 158 games with 93 as a starter. Those numbers put him third most for any offensive lineman in the black and gold.

The fact of the matter, without Zach Strief the Saints would never have been able to have the success on offense year after year.

“Zach Strief was one of the best players I’ve had a chance to coach, one of the best teammates, and someone our whole organization and fan base can be proud of. As a person, as a man, as a friend, and as a head coach, I thank Zach. He will always be one of us,” Coach Payton said at Strief’s retirement.

Black and Gold Forever

Still, the core character of Zach Strief may have been his best asset. Even more than what he brought on the field. His community work raising money for pediatric cancer. The respect of his teammates with action, not just words.

Make no mistake, Strief didn’t “Wow” any of the scouts in those months at the NFL Combine or blazing speed. Moreover, he himself probably couldn’t envision the success at the highest level in the National Football League.

My first year covering the Saints was eye-opening for sure. Being around the team behind the ropes was way beyond my wildest fantasies as well. But watching Strief around the players and media made an impression on me early on. No matter what happened in practice or after a lost, Zach Strief never changed his demeanor or character. What you see is what you get. Very few people in this world resemble the professionalism, the drive, and the authenticity of Zach Strief. Anyone that has been fortunate enough to spend any time can learn a lot from him. He is a natural born legend. An example of how we’d all want our children to look up to.

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