Med school on hold for new Lions RB Zach Zenner

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner runs a drill during rookie minicamp in Allen Park on May 8, 2015.

Laken Tomlinson's desire to become a doctor when he's done playing football is well documented, but Tomlinson isn't the only Detroit Lions rookie with post-career medical aspirations.

Undrafted free agent running back Zach Zenner applied for and was accepted into the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, but the three-time 2,000-yard rusher deferred his enrollment in hopes of making the NFL.

"I'm going to give this NFL thing its full chance," Zenner said after Lions rookie camp this month. "And you have to delay enrollment for the whole year, so I'd have a whole year to maybe get picked up by another team, maybe go play for an arena team or something like that (if things don't work out with the Lions)."

A biology major at South Dakota State, Zenner said he hopes to become a surgeon when he's done playing football. But he plans to play football as long as possible.

He can defer his medical school enrollment up to three times, and he said he'll judge his progress by his proximity to making a 53-man roster.

"It's kind of a feel thing," Zenner said. "Where am I at? Am I bouncing around practice squads or am I contributor on special teams? Things like that. How is the game going? How is my time in the NFL? If it's going well, I'm sticking around, no question."

At South Dakota State, Zenner was a shifty, tough-to-tackle runner who finished with the third-most rushing yards (6,548) in FCS history.

He ran for 2,044 yards as a sophomore, another 2,015 as a junior and capped his college career with 2,019 yards and 22 touchdowns last year.

Zenner handled kick returns for the Jackrabbits as a freshman, and some NFL teams considered moving him to fullback, but the Lions liked him as a potential backup to Joique Bell and second-round pick Ameer Abdullah for rushing ability and willingness to do whatever for the team.

"Highly productive guy out of college, obviously, with 2,000 yards three consecutive seasons," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "He's a very, very talented guy from that standpoint, and he learns well. He's not one-dimensional; he can catch the ball, as well. He's got size, 218 pounds; I think he may be 224 right now, but played at about 218. So he's got a lot of positive traits."

Zenner, who got a $5,000 signing bonus from the Lions, said he understood why he wasn't drafted and is just grateful to have an opportunity in the NFL.

"I mean, people have opinions. I can only control what I can control, and they didn't consider me -- teams didn't consider me worthy of the draft pick or draft-worthy, which is fine. I got an opportunity all the same," he said. "I don't feel slighted. Like I said, I still have the same opportunity that those guys that did get drafted, I still have an opportunity to make the team. I just have to go prove myself."

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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