COLUMBIANA - No matter how difficult things got for the Leetonia football team late in the 2013 season, senior fullback Zack Van Giesen gamely kept banging away.
With the Bears offense handicapped down the stretch by injuries, the load fell heavily on Van Giesen's shoulders as his career wound down.
"Injuries are a part of the game," Van Giesen said. "I had to do my part along with everyone else to step up."
As Leetonia struggled to a 2-8 campaign, Van Giesen provided some highlights, rushing for an Inter-Tri County League lower tier-leading 1,169 yards and 12 touchdowns, while having enough energy leftover to receive special mention Division VII All-Ohio as a defensive lineman.
"We didn't have the season we wanted, but it felt good to lead the lower tier in rushing," Van Giesen said. "I have to thank my teammates for helping me get there."
Van Giesen's effort has earned him a spot on the Ohio All-Star team for Friday's 35th annual Penn-Ohio Stateline Classic at Springfield High School.
"To earn a spot on this team is something I'll be able to look back on," Van Giesen said. "It's an honor to be a part of."
Van Giesen entered the 2013 season hoping to team up with junior quarterback Trent Ferry and junior running back Colton Gudat to lead Leetonia into Division VII playoff contention. After three games, the Bears were in good shape with a 2-1 record behind a balanced rushing attack. After that, things began to unravel.
A pair of close setbacks to Wellsville and Lowellville (both playoff teams) was followed by a blowout loss to Western Reserve, during which Ferry-who accounted for 826 total yards in six games-suffered a broken leg.
"That (Ferry's injury) was a big blow," Van Giesen said. "We really went downhill after he got hurt."
In addition to Ferry's injury, Gudat-who accounted for 526 total yards in seven games-succumbed to nagging injuries and was also lost for the year.
With three weeks left in the season, Van Giesen was all alone as the main cog in the Bears' attack. He attempted more carries than anyone else in the lower tier over the final three games, while also shuttling between defensive end and inside linebacker.
"It wore on me a little bit," Van Giesen said. "Going both ways, trying to keep our offense and defense in line was hard. I was banged up at the end of the year." I tried to keep our offensive line's spirits up the best I could."
With defenses loaded up to stop Van Giesen, the Bears struggled mightily in the season's closing weeks, mustering just one touchdown in each of their final three games to end on an eight-game losing streak.
All the while, Van Giesen kept plugging away. He even stepped in at quarterback in the Bears' final two games-rushing for 210 yards out of the wildcat formation in the season finale at Mineral Ridge.
"With the way our offense was, playing quarterback was pretty much like running back," Van Giesen said. "I was still running the ball almost every play, the only difference was taking snaps."
Van Giesen-who will not play football in college-is relishing the chance to play one final game on Friday with his Ohio teammates and has no regrets with how his career ended.
"It was a fun four years," Van Giesen said. "The coaching staff and teammates helped make it a lot of fun. It means a lot to be able to play one last game with all the other players from this area. I'm ready to get after it."