Bickhart to live out dream, play at Juniata College
LEWISTOWN — Mifflin County’s Zach Bickhart found himself laying on the grass at Mitchell Field with a devastating injury on homecoming night of his senior season.
Just six games in, Bickhart’s season was over. The versatile senior, who saw time at wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner, tore his ACL and meniscus, putting his future playing career in jeopardy.
“When we first learned that Zach’s injury was season ending, we were obviously very disappointed for him as a player,” Mifflin County coach Scot Sechler said. “Nobody wants to see an athlete get hurt in their senior campaign. Watching the pain and dejection on his face was moving. At that point, I knew it would be tough for him to play at the next level.”
With a large amount of determination and heart, the injury did not stop him from accomplishing his dream of playing football at the next level, as Bickhart announced on Twitter March 13th that he will further his playing and academic career at Division III Juniata College.
“This opportunity to play at the next level means the world to me,” Bickhart said. “My goal since I was a little kid was to play college football. All I have ever wanted to do was play football and getting the four extra years to play the game I love is amazing to me.”
Bickhart finished his Huskies career with 30 catches for 426 yards and two TDs, while excelling as a return specialist with 743 kick return yards in 27 games. Bickhart compiled 1,290 all-purpose yards in his career.
Defensively he recorded 60 tackles, broke up five passes and intercepted four passes.
It was his ability to see the field at multiple positions and his hands that Bickhart said set himself apart to Juniata College coach Josh Carter. He hopes to play as a slot receiver and on special teams.
“Juniata liked the way I was versatile,” Bickhart said. “Coach Carter said I had good hands and I would fit into his system well.”
Sechler agreed that Bickhart’s ability to play anywhere makes him a valuable asset.
“Zach’s skillset was immensely important to our team,” Sechler said. “He could run with the ball, catch, block, tackle, return kicks. He could do it all. If we needed someone to plug a hole, Zach could fill it. Not only could he fill it, but he also helped younger players learn the role he was filling. He was a valuable asset in all areas of our team and was a major player in all of our game planning.”
The recruiting trail was rocky for Bickhart, as schools began to shy away from him after his knee injury.
“The recruiting process was crazy for me,” he said. “I think that some schools went away from me after I got hurt. I had schools come from all over the state talk to me, but I had it narrowed down to a handful of schools that I considered.
“My decision to go to Juniata College was based off of many reasons,” Bickhart said. “I really enjoyed my time at the campus. It is a beautiful campus that offers a great education. I really like the new head coach and the other coaches. I have a couple of buddies there that contacted me about the school. The school is closer to home and I really liked that as well.”
Sechler was pleased to see Bickhart start to gain interest from schools.
“When colleges came calling, they could see the hard work he was putting into his rehab and the progress he was making,” Sechler said. ‘It was so exciting seeing him get recruited, being honored at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Banquet at Penn State and ultimately making his decision to play at Juniata College.”
Bickhart will join a group of locals including Mifflin County graduates Nathan Bargo, Noah Wright, Julian Jackson and Logan Peachey, as well as Juniata graduates Isaiah Wagner, Tyler Clark, Bryson Clark, Fletcher Hart, Josh Parson and Ben Lauver.
Despite his final season being cut short, Bickhart stated that his junior and senior year were his favorite memories from football.
“Looking back, I think the last few games of my junior year and my senior year were my favorite,” Bickhart recalled. “Junior year was special because we won the Colonial Division for the first time. Sophomore year was a big learning experience for me. It was a difficult year starting as a sophomore, but I got better and better as time went on. Senior year I enjoyed so much while I was playing because I was playing at a high level and I was a leader on the team.”
Bickhart’s memories at Mitchell Field will last a lifetime.
“Mitchell field is a very special place to me and a lot of people in Mifflin County,” Bickhart said. “I loved playing home games in front of all of my friends and family along with everyone else that attended the games to support our team. My high school football experience was good. I think I learned a lot in the years that I played at Mifflin County. Not just on the field but off. I learned a lot about life and how to overcome different obstacles that may be in my way.”
With his success, Bickhart mentioned the support of his coaches and teammates for helping him get to this point.
“They pushed me to be the best I could be day in and day out and I couldn’t thank them enough,” Bickhart said. “I want to thank my friends for always being there to support me. And last but not least I want to thank all of my family. They have been there and supported me since Day 1.
“My dad first introduced me to the sport when I started to walk and I loved it ever since,” Bickhart continued. “They came to every game I ever played in, and they were there to support me no matter what. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system and a better family to push me and put in all the time and energy to allow me to play the game I love. I want to thank them for raising me into the young guy I am today.”
Overall, Sechler believes Bickhart’s mindset will lead to success at the next level.
“Zach was the consummate athlete,” he said. “He was a competitor. He hated to lose, and because of that, he helped bring the same intensity out of everyone else on the team.”