Zak Keasey ’05, an All-Ivy linebacker in 2002 and 2005, was known around the league for his punishing tackles. Now, after three years as an NFL backup and practice-squad player, he has earned a starting spot with the San Francisco 49ers — on offense, as the team’s fullback. In September, Keasey spoke with freelance writer Andrew Robinton ’04 about life in the NFL.
You’ve had an unusual path to your starting job with the 49ers. Can you explain what the last three years have been like?
It’s definitely been a long way. I was a long shot after my senior year at Princeton. Greg Williams [the former defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins] gave me an opportunity to work out in the rookie training camp in ’05. A number of times I got cut and ended up being on the practice squad for the latter part of the season. I ended up being signed by San Francisco at the end of the ’05 season. I spent all of 2006 on the practice squad and began last season on the practice squad. Some injuries occurred, and the opportunity came up to play special teams. Even when I got brought up it was [temporary] — I would get cut and put on the practice squad, and then finally made it up to the roster for the last few games.
How did you become an NFL fullback?
The coaches in San Francisco wanted me to make the transition to fullback. I was kind of intrigued by it, saw it as a fresh start, and decided to make the move. ... I had played the position in high school, and knew a few other guys in the NFL had moved from linebacker to fullback, but it was a little more difficult than I had anticipated. Playing with the ball behind me instead of in front of me took some adjusting. The game plan, the shifts in motions, the precision, [and] the offensive philosophy all took a little time to get used to.
So are you an offensive player or defensive player at heart?
This is the first year I feel comfortable to the extent I can say I’m really enjoying playing the spot and feel like an offensive player. In the past I may have said I was a linebacker at heart, but this year I made the transition, and love blocking and helping make plays to score points for the team.
Looking back on your playing days at Princeton, what comes to mind?