Line tapped as Wildcats’ new football coach

After nearly two-and-a-half months, the search for the Oxford Wildcats’ next football coach is over.
Zach Line, 29, a 2008 Oxford High School graduate, member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and seven-year National Football League player, agreed to take the reins of the program on Jan. 17.
Starring under previous head coach Bud Rowley on both sides of the football for three seasons, Line racked up nearly 1,900 all-purpose yards as a senior and earned All-State honors at linebacker.

Zach Line with his wife, McKenzie, and their three daughters at Wildcat Stadium on Jan. 18, one day after accepting the position. Photo provided.

He announced his retirement from professional football in an Instagram post on Jan. 15, two days before the Oxford agreement became official. Somewhat ironically, Line’s final game on the New Orleans Saints’ roster was a playoff loss to Minnesota, the team that gave him his first opportunity in the league.
“I didn’t go into the league with a predetermined number of years I wanted to play,” he shared. “I always told my wife (McKenzie) we would talk about it and know when it was the right time.
“When Coach Rowley stepped down and this opportunity became available, we knew it was a sign the timing was right.”
Eager to hit the ground running and help continue the standard of excellence established by Rowley, one of Line’s first tasks will be rounding out his coaching staff, something he recognizes the importance of.
“That’s absolutely at the top of the list,” he said. “Choosing who to hire in a quick manner is going to be very important because it will provide these young players with some stability and we can get going toward our goals.
“Every coach who comes into this program, whether it is at the varsity level, junior varsity, middle school or the Junior Wildcats program, we have to make sure they are the right fit for us and in for the right reasons so we can build a foundation in this program that will lead to sustained success.”
Oxford was no stranger to sustained success under Rowley, winning a state championship in 1992 and posting a winning record in 28 consecutive seasons from 1982-2009, the fourth-longest streak in Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) history. However, the Wildcats finished with a record below .500 in four of the last five seasons.
As exemplified by Line, most of Rowley’s success came with a run-heavy approach on offense. The run game will, obviously, always be essential to success in the game of football, but it sounds like the new regime is open to giving the offense a more modern feel.
“Controlling the line of scrimmage, toughness, running the football, all the things Coach Rowley was about will always be key to winning,” Line said. “For us, we’ll have to get in, get a real good look at what we have, and design an offense around putting our guys in the best position to succeed.”
Running back/linebacker Drew Carpenter and wide receivers/defensive backs Nate Call and Matt Pullman, three of Oxford’s most impactful players on both sides of the football in 2019, are set to graduate in June.
These losses will be tough for any coach to overcome, but the cupboard is not bare for the incoming staff. Wide receiver/linebacker Trent Brown, quarterback Brady Carpenter (Drew’s younger brother), running back/linebacker Melvin Eckles and defensive backs Jack Thompson and John Valvo will give Line a mature group of upperclassmen to help build this program around.
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Despite Line’s high school success, the state’s flagship programs – Michigan State University, headed by Mark Dantonio and the University of Michigan, then with Rich Rodriguez at the helm – did not show interest in Line. He took his talents to Texas and joined then-first-year head coach June Jones and the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs in 2008.
Initially expecting to contribute on defense in Dallas, he focused his efforts on playing tailback in 2009 after redshirting his first-year on-campus. He rushed for 189 yards at a 3.9 yards per carry clip as a redshirt freshman. He tallied at least 1,224 yards and 10 scores on the ground in each of his final three seasons at SMU from 2010-12.
Line graduated with 4,185 career rushing yards, the second-highest total in school history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson (4,450). Craig James, one of the best running backs the state of Texas has ever produced, tallied 3,743 yards during his time with the Mustangs from 1979-82, more than 400 yards less than Line.
An undrafted free agent in 2013, Line signed with the Minnesota Vikings and would go on to play seven years in the NFL. He played with the Vikings from 2013 to 2016 and then played three seasons for the New Orleans Saints (2017-19).
Earning a reputation as the “ultimate” team player with a sharp mind for the game, Line was able to pick the brains of some of the league’s best offensive coaches during his playing career including Joe Brady, Sean Payton, Pat Shurmur and Norv Turner. Averaging 3.2 yards per rushing attempt and over eight yards per reception, Line found the end zone six times in his NFL career. The statistic that best shows Line’s impact on his teams, however, is the fact his squads qualified for the postseason in four of his seasons, including all three years in New Orleans.

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