WMU looks to servant leader in rivalry game against CMU

WMU coach PJ Fleck and Zach Terrell
Western Michigan University Coach P.J. Fleck and quarterback Zach Terrell look on as fans cheer on the team.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University will lean on its team leader Saturday in keeping its perfect season alive in Mount Pleasant.

Broncos Coach P.J. Fleck is 2-1 against arch rival Central Michigan University. He says quarterback Zach Terrell is the team’s top leader and deserves as much credit as anyone for the incredible turnaround at WMU.

The first year under Fleck’s Row the Boat Era was a disaster.

“It wasn’t just the losing,” Fleck said. “People were resistant to change and everything was so much different.”

Fleck and his staff needed someone to lead and welcome the new culture he was trying to build. So he turned to freshman quarterback Zach Terrell.

“I felt Zach had something very special in him. It was his how, it was his heart, it was his giving, his serving, that you want in the quarterback position,” Fleck said.
After going 1-11, Terrell decided it was time to stop resisting.

“I really had to self-reflect after that season. And it was like, either I take this row the boat mantra and run with it or I’m not going to be here, I’m not going to play, I’m not going to get any better as a person,a student, an athlete,” said Terrell.

Once Terrell bought into the philosophy, others followed, paving the way for the greatest turnaround in the program’s history – from 1-11 to 8-5.

“Coach never gave up on me, and that’s one thing I will be forever grateful for, because they believed in me when I was under-serving in terms of the way I was performing. I was giving it my all, but my all wasn’t good enough,” Terrell said.

Under-serving isn’t something those in the Bronco program would ever accuse Terrell of doing. If there’s a class to read to, he’ll grab a book. If there’s a hospital visit to be made, he’ll light up a sick child’s day. Terrell has already made four mission trips, including two with teammates to the Dominican Republic.

Terrell said it was the mission trip he made in high school that helped shape him into who he is. The quarterback went to Haiti shortly after the earthquake that devastated that country.

“I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana in an upper-middle class family. Upper to middle class there was having a tarp tent, and upper to middle class was having maybe a bucket to collect rain water,” Terrell explained. “Just the devastation I saw, (it) changed me forever.”

Terrell wasn’t the only one changed.

“He’s changed me completely,” said Fleck. I’ve been through a divorce. With my football team, they were involved with it as much as I was. They knew about it, they knew what I was going through. When I informed our team, the first person to stand up was Zach Terrell and he said, “Guys, let’s pray for coach. Let’s pray for coach and his wife and their kids and what they’re going through.”

The Broncos take on the Chippewas at 7 p.m. Saturday. ESPN plans to profile WMU during College Gameday at 10 a.m.