By: Tom D'Angelo - palmbeachpost.com
CORAL GABLES — Far too often, the story lines in college athletics are about suspensions, dismissals and police blotters. We live in a society where universities regularly recruit speakers to remind athletes the dangers of drugs or the importance of treating women with respect.
Then there are the all-too-often, under-publicized stories of athletes like Zach McCloud.
The Miami Hurricanes senior linebacker from Lantana is best known for being a three-year starter with the ability to stop a running back cold in his tracks. But when not on the field or in the weight room, McCloud can be found mentoring kids at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami or representing the football team on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council or handing out brochures on campus about sexual assault prevention or participating in a black student-athlete leadership forum or ... you get the picture.
Zach McCloud represents everything that is good about college athletics.
“Zach McCloud is literally the guy you want your daughter to marry,” Hurricanes defensive coordinator Blake Baker said. “He is as good as it gets on and off the field.”
McCloud recently was recognized for that work by being named to the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. The award, named to honor former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, is given annually to the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.
McCloud, a former Santaluces High standout, graduated in three years from the school of education with a degree in human social development. He is preparing to take graduate courses in the psychology field.
“When you think about what it takes to be a football student-athlete at the University of Miami and what it takes for organization time management to do really well in the classroom and to really be the leader in terms of helping us with community services ... it’s really quite impressive,” said Shirelle Jackson, UM senior associate AD for student-athlete development.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound McCloud is part of perhaps the most unique and arguably best linebacker corps in the country. McCloud, Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney are returning as three-year starters. They have combined for 581 tackles – 73 for loss – and 24 sacks. College football expert Phil Steele ranks them as the second-best linebacker unit in the country, behind Alabama’s.
While Quarterman and Pinckney receive most of the on-field accolades – they were voted preseason All-ACC first team – McCloud completes this group when it comes to his presence in the community.
“For him, it’s very natural to ask his peers, ‘Hey, you want to come out and volunteer to feed the homeless, want to volunteer to read to the elementary school kids,’ because he’s such a natural communicator,” Jackson said.
“He’s a leader not just in football. People know him in every sport. He’s well known across campus as ‘Zach McCloud the nice guy,’ not just ‘Zach McCloud the linebacker who can blow it up on Saturdays.’ ”
McCloud gives all the credit to his parents, Thomas and Victoria, who raised Zach and his five siblings. Zach said he “wasn’t always doing the right thing,” but that combination of tough and tender love from Thomas and Victoria helped set him on the right path.
“I got my act together and a lot of my friends growing up didn’t,” he said. “Some of them are in prison now. Some of them died this year.”
McCloud said if he didn’t have the people in his life to say “get it together now or you’re going to regret it later,” he would have gone down the wrong path.
“His dad has talked to him a lot about making the right choices and making the right decisions,” said Victoria, who works for Palm Beach County schools in the department of early childhood. “We’ve always made sure he knows he has choices, good choices and bad choices. We’re grateful he made the right choices in life.”
Thomas, who is retired, wonders if he had to be so tough on his son, especially after seeing the man he has become.
“I didn’t learn that until later on I didn’t have to be as strict as I was,” Thomas said. “He was built a certain way.”
McCloud has been a member of SAAC – a student-athlete leadership group - since he arrived at UM in 2016 and last year he was elected to the executive board. He has attended the Black Student-Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas. He has been UM’s only male student representative the last 18 months for the “It’s On Us” campaign to end sexual misconduct on college campuses
When survivor/activist Brenda Tracy recently spoke to the Hurricanes football team, McCloud was the first player to greet her following her speech.
McCloud’s internship with Big Brothers Big Sisters was during his final undergrad semester. His first week there he met an 11-year old boy who was struggling with his math homework. Frustration set in and the boy started looking for distractions on his computer.
“I did the same thing my teachers would do for me, or my mom would do for me when I was growing up,” McCloud said. “I just slowed it down for him, told him the steps, and every time he would get hung up I’d say, ‘OK, what’s the next step?’
“He figured it out himself and he saw he was really good at math, he just needed somebody to slow him down.”
McCloud said the lessons carried over to other areas of the boy’s life and his parents told McCloud the boy started behaving better.
“He really understands his role-model piece,” Jackson said. “He jumps in but the ripple effect from his jumping in that water really goes on and on, not only just to his teammates but to the children. He gets the total picture of what it means to impact the community.”