Allen Park — Zach Zenner insists it’s not as bad as it sounds, but it’s difficult to not think of broken bones in your back as serious.
Zenner, who re-signed with the Lions on Tuesday, told reporters he suffered two broken bones in his back in the preseason finale, an injury that landed him on injured reserve.
“I had two fractures — my right L2 and L3 transverse process were snapped in half,” Zenner said. “They're not load-bearing bones, so it's just kind of certain movements that it would grab me, I'll say. But it wasn't as bad as it sounds. If you're going to break your back, that's what you want to do.”
The Lions subsequently released him with a six-week injury settlement, which allowed them to bring him back to the roster this year.
Zenner certainly made the most of his time away. He got the opportunity to spend plenty of time with his family, including his son, Zayne, who was born in February.
“He is working on crawling, which is both exciting and terrifying,” Zenner said.
Zenner also spent his time preparing for two possible outcomes — a return to football or a life without it. When the Lions released him, they expressed interest in re-signing him once he was healthy, but every player knows those words are conditional to circumstances and not a guarantee.
“It wasn’t that I was done with football, it’s more that was football done with me,” he said. “I was preparing for either outcome. Preparing to move on, go to school and do some other fun stuff, and also preparing to come back and play for someone.”
Once medically cleared, Zenner went to work on his body, working with Michigan Elite Conditioning in Novi. The progress photos posted on the company’s social media are stunning, showing significantly more muscular definition.
The caption on the photo notes Zenner trimmed his body fat from 12.6 percent to 8 percent, while adding 14 pounds of muscle, during his seven weeks of training.
Zenner also worked out his mind. A pre-med student coming out of South Dakota State as a rookie, he’s at a point where he needs to retake his Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The downtime provided plenty of opportunity to study.
All the while, Zenner kept tabs on the Lions, watching nearly all the games. He did say it became more difficult once he was able play again.
“When I got healthy, that’s when it got harder to watch because you feel you can be out there, playing and participating, or at least helping out during the week, at practice,” he said. “While you’re not healthy, being on the couch was just fine.”
Zenner doesn’t have any set expectations for his role in his return. In 28 games over the past three seasons, he's tallied 627 yards from scrimmage. He’s also played a regular role on special teams.