Aurora shooting survivor Zack Golditch has chance to make Chargers as undrafted rookie

Shalise Manza YoungYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

Undrafted rookies generally face long odds of making an NFL roster: teams passed on them through seven rounds of the draft in April, and while sometimes they get to pick from a few offers, their signing bonus is just a few thousand dollars, and teams are often more inclined to stick with players they’ve invested more in, whether it’s a high-round draft slot or maybe a couple of years developing them on the practice squad.

It does happen, that undrafted guys shine and make the roster, and it might be happening for a player who was a survivor even before he joined the Los Angeles Chargers.

Zack Golditch, Aurora Shooting survivor

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One of the young offensive linemen trying to stick with the Chargers is Zack Golditch, who played at Colorado State. Golditch was in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater at 12:30 a.m. on July 20, 2012 for a midnight showing of “The Dark Night Rises” when a gunman opened fire in the auditorium next door, where the same movie was playing.

Undrafted offensive lineman Zack Golditch has a good shot of making the Chargers’ roster. On July 20, 2012, he was shot in the neck during the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting. (AP)
Undrafted offensive lineman Zack Golditch has a good shot of making the Chargers’ roster. On July 20, 2012, he was shot in the neck during the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting. (AP)

He was a junior in high school.

While dozens of people inside that auditorium were injured and 12 were killed, bullets also went through the wall and into the theater where Golditch was sitting.

“I remember a couple of pop sounds, and I look up, and there was a little bit of smoke in the air,” Golditch recalled this week to ESPN’s Eric D. Williams. “I’m thinking it’s firecrackers.”

Golditch was hit in the neck by a bullet that pierced the wall into his auditorium.

“I mean, only thing I can see is the blood dripping out of my neck onto my hand, onto my shoes, onto my shirt, onto the ground,” he said.

He was incredibly fortunate that the bullet did not hit an artery, though it came “really, really close.” He was treated and released from the hospital within several hours.

After some time to recover, Golditch played his senior season at Gateway High School, and then on to Colorado State, where he started 38 games.

‘You wonder what the experience was like’

Before practice on Monday, Golditch got in the cold tub next to the man he’ll help protect if he makes the team: quarterback Philip Rivers.

Rivers was initially reluctant to ask Golditch about the shooting, but the two did discuss it.

“I figured the guy gets hounded all the time about it, but we ended up in the tub, and I figured, shoot, what the heck?” Rivers said. “You wonder what that experience was like. You read about it, but then hearing about it from someone who was actually in there, it was unbelievable.

“He seems to have handled it pretty well. He’s not fearful, like to go to a movie or anything like that. Anytime you read about a tragedy, a car wreck or anything like that, it’s always a reminder because you never know.”

Golditch doesn’t advertise his experience, but he’s open to answering questions.

Guys have questions here or there, and I’ll answer them. I haven’t told my story in front of the whole team, but guys know,” he said. “And periodically, people will pop in and ask questions, and I answer them because these are my teammates, and if they want to know, I want to answer those questions.”

Versatility and familiarity helps

While the 6-foot-5, 295 pound Golditch has primarily played at tackle, he’s also gotten some snaps at guard. That versatility as well as the fact that the Chargers’ offense is similar to the one Colorado State ran, are helping his transition.

“It’s been some good and some bad, but I’ve been giving my best effort,” Golditch said. “It was kind of tough in the beginning, with new verbiage and just learning the ways the coaches wanted it to be done. I think my versatility is one of the main reasons why I’m here. So if I can keep bouncing around to different positions and show them that I’m a dependable guy, that helps me.”

Los Angeles offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt sees Golditch as an inspiration – and even more importantly for the 23-year-old’s prospects, he’s seen him get better.

“To have gone through that and to be in the NFL with a chance to be on the team, it’s an incredible story. I think it gives you a great perspective on life, and it’s great to see him competing and being here with us,” Whisenhunt said.

“He’s improving. That’s one of the things. If you had to say anything about Zack, it is from where he started to where he is now, he has gotten better.

“He has played a number of different positions for us, and that’s not always easy. I think his competitiveness is something that really stands out. You like what you see from him in that standpoint.”

Rivers believes surviving such a frightening experience is fueling Golditch.

“He’s fired up to be out here,” Rivers said. “He seems to have that attitude of ‘I was that close, and I ain’t taking nothing for granted.'”

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