KEARNEY — Zach Blaschko missed all of last season for the University of Nebraska at Kearney football team after suffering an offseason knee injury. It was a disappointing blow for the Kearney native, who hoped to garner an increase in playing time after thriving in a limited role as a redshirt freshman in 2017.
Even though he didn’t suit up for the Lopers, he gained a stronger understanding of the offense preparing for this season. In his first game back from injury, Blaschko was the No. 2 tight end and a priority in the passing game against Missouri Southern Sept. 5.
On the Lopers’ first offensive series, senior quarterback Alex McGinnis connected with Blaschko for an 8-yard touchdown. It marked the first touchdown pass caught by a Loper tight end since Sept. 23, 2017.
“It was pretty cool,” Blaschko said. “I didn’t expect it to come the first drive of the game. It was unreal to come back from the injury and be 100 percent and have a touchdown for my team.”
Blaschko joined the UNK program in 2016, after compiling 509 yards and eight touchdowns on 37 receptions his senior year at Kearney High.
He hadn’t “looked a whole lot into college football” until late in the recruiting process but said his decision to attend UNK stemmed from the university’s academics and the coaching staff in place at the time.
Blaschko redshirted his first year and then played in all 11 games in 2017 under first-year coach Josh Lynn. In his redshirt freshman year, Blaschko tallied four catches for 42 yards.
Last season was cut short when he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee in the weeks leading up to preseason camp while running routes on Foster Field. He missed the entire season but returned for spring practice.
He wore a knee brace during the spring season and believes he was around 85 percent to 90 percent healthy. It wasn’t until the middle of summer that he was fully healthy and no longer wearing the brace, he said.
“It was definitely a growing experience,” Blaschko said. “Those injuries are never easy. It helped me grow as a person, mature and just figure out that you can’t take things for granted.”
Lynn believes last year was valuable for Blaschko.
“You never want to say an injury is a good thing, but for him it was,” Lynn said. “He’s matured. He’s really knows the ins and outs of the offense. He doesn’t bust, and he’s done a really good job of maturing in our offense.”
In the offseason, Blaschko worked on regaining his explosiveness and agility while becoming comfortable and confident with his left knee not in a brace.
He entered preseason camp in competition for the starting cruiser spot, which is the term for the tight end position in the Lopers’ offense, and currently sits second on the depth chart behind sophomore Kyler Van Housen. Blaschko finished the first game with two catches for 11 yards and one touchdown.
Lynn believes the 6-foot-4, 215-pound fourth-year sophomore will continue to progress and provide an impact throughout the season.
“He’s done a great job for us,” Lynn said. “He’s come a long way, and he’s becoming one of our better football players. He’s a big kid who’s physical and he’s very skilled for how big he is. He’s slid into the cruiser spot and done a really good job.”