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June 12, 2011

Big talent in a small Missouri town





KANSAS CITY--Barnard, Missouri is one of the smallest towns in the state. But the city of just 257 people has produced one of Missouri's biggest players.

Checking in at a physically imposing 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, Zach Hilsabeck is as large as his hometown is not.

"It's just a small little farm town," Hilsabeck said describing Barnard, which sits about 35 miles north of St. Joseph. "We've got a bar, a restaurant, a post office, a grain elevator and that's about it."

In fact, at Hilsabeck's South Nodaway High School, he plays eight-man football. A typical formation has three down linemen, two ends, two backs, and a quarterback. Hilsabeck's father said "12 or 13" players go out for football every year. Nearly every player plays offense and defense, by necessity.

"It's fast-paced," Hilsabeck said. "You don't leave the field. Ever. I play offense, defense, kickoff, kick return, punt, punt return. I get maybe two plays off every game."

In the trenches, Hilsabeck uses his size to his advantage.

"I do real well until they triple or quad team me," he said. "Most of them try to cut block me but eventually they just quit because they don't succeed."

While Barnard may not be known for producing Division One talent, that's exactly what Hilsabeck hopes to be. At his size, most project him to be a tackle in college. Of course, in eight-man football, there is no such thing as an offensive tackle.

"Everybody tells me I've got what it takes," Hilsabeck said. "I just have to have it inside me. I have to unleash the beast as they say."

Missouri coaches first got a glimpse of the potential beast at their football camp in Kansas City last summer.

"I came down here last year to this camp a year ago and I wasn't thinking much of it," the senior-to-be said. "I just thought it was football and I'd try to better myself. Then [Missouri's coaches] invited me back this year. I think I'll hit up a few other camps so hopefully that'll help me get noticed."

Hilsabeck's dad, Mike, recalled an initial conversation with Missouri's offensive line coach, Josh Henson.

"Coach Henson said, 'You don't think he can play Division One, do you?'" Mike said. "I said no. He asked, 'Is it just because he plays eight-man football?' I said yes and he told me, 'It's all there. He has the size. He has the frame.'"

While at Missouri's Kansas City camp this year, Hilsabeck got a chance to speak with several Tiger coaches.

"Andy Hill, I talked to him and all the O-line coaches, I've talked to them." Hilsabeck said. "They just tell me keep up the good work and to stay low."

Whether it results in a scholarship offer from Missouri-or any other Division One school-remains to be seen. Hilsabeck says he'll take their advice in hopes of garnering added attention.

This summer he'll attend Missouri's team camp as well as camps at Pittsburg State and Northwest Missouri State. When it comes to requirements in a school, the big man from the small town isn't picky.

"I'll go anywhere I can play and go to school."

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