NCAA Division II playoffs: Zach Bronkhorst works to the top for Angelo State
The question seems complicated.
How did Zach Bronkhorst, a six-man quarterback from Galveston High Island, not just see the field in a college football game, but become a star for a No. 2 Angelo State team preparing for Saturday's NCAA Division II quarterfinal against the Colorado School of Mines?
How does someone transition to a new set of rules, essentially a new sport, and do it at such a high level?
This is a hard question with an easy answer: Sweat. Lots of it.
"I believe I bring hard work and toughness," said Bronkhorst, who has thrown for 2,845 yards this year for 12-0 ASU. "I've worked hard every single day to get to where I am. I'm always learning stuff from (offensive coordinator Kevin) Kilmer, we identify stuff on the field we can take advantage of.
"I believe I have the talent, but it's putting in the work."
That's not the most exciting answer for a player who generates excitement whenever he's on the field, but it gets at who Bronkhorst is and why he's led every team he's been on to success.
His leadership "is through the roof, both by example and with his voice," coach Jeff Girsch said. "He holds people accountable. He's never late anywhere, he's always on time, he's always the first one there, the last one to leave.
"In the weight room he's an absolute beast. All the things you ask, especially at the quarterback position, to be on great teams, he's done that. He's an unbelievable leader, a great young man, the guys really respect him."
Not surprisingly given all that, Bronkhorst is a coach's son. His father John coached him at High Island as well as a number of other places, some of which played 11-man football, so the game was familiar to Zach.
There are obvious advantages to being a coach's son and others that aren't so obvious.
"With Zach, being a coach's kid, being able to sit down in the living room and watch film on a daily basis, talk concepts, obviously he had a little bit of an advantage there," said John Bronkhorst, who is now coaching at New Braunfels Christian. "The biggest thing with him has been his determination and work ethic.
"That probably comes with being a coach's kid. You're always having to work harder because everyone assumes the head coach's kid gets preferential treatment. He made sure that was never a doubt because of how hard he works."
He had to repeat that when he arrived at Angelo State in 2018.
"Playing six-man football then getting recruited by Angelo, he came in and felt he had to prove something because he was in a recruiting class with three other quarterbacks who played 3A, 4A, 5A high school," John Bronkhorst said. "He already had a chip on his shoulder, he felt he needed to prove something and he was going to outwork everybody. He's living out the fruits of his labor."
The results have been brilliant, but they were accomplished over time. When he broke in as a starter in 2020, the season where Bronkhorst said this Angelo State run of success really began, he was in his fourth year at Angelo State. He redshirted in 2017, played in one game and threw two passes in 2018 and was behind three seniors in 2019 when he didn't play.
In the spring of 2020 Bronkhorst had worked his way into position to compete for a starting job and that's where he and his program began a transformation. The Rams went 2-2 in that COVID year, with two games against FCS teams, but that record doesn't begin to show the progress the Rams made as they transitioned from a .500 program into what it has become.
"Coach Girsch, (defensive coordinator Adam) Clark and coach Kilmer had been at the helm for a year," Bronkhorst said. "We knew what we had and the talent level. That 2020 season when we played SFA, ACU, West Texas twice, we really saw what we could be. Then 2021 we were able to piece it together. We saw the talent level we had and showed what the program can be."
At that point, Bronkhorst could safely be called an 11-man quarterback.
"We've had six-man kids play at other positions, but quarterback is unique to say the least," Girsch said. "At that position it's hard to do it from six-man, but when your dad is a football coach in the state of Texas, you're going to be coached up a little differently.
"Zach has done a great job of absorbing everything he can from his dad and coach Kilmer now and he's put it to use."
John Bronkhorst said he actually thinks the transition from six-man to 11-man is easier for a quarterback.
"Having coached both six-man and 11-man, the one position group that can adjust the fastest from six-man to 11-man is the quarterback position," John Bronkhorst said. "In six-man a lot of teams run man-to-man. When you get into the upper levels of college football, a lot of people are playing man-to-man. Man-to-man is man-to-man, so it's making sure you understand concepts and route combinations, that sort of thing.
"(The hardest part) is the spacing. You're going from a field that's 44 yards wide to a field that's 53 1/3 yards wide, so the spatial awareness of things — the hashmarks look different. It's more cluttered so the throwing windows are tighter. Those are the big adjustments."
By 2021 Bronkhorst was a star, throwing for 2,498 yards for a team that went 11-3 and made the playoffs, where it lost to Saturday's opponent, the Colorado School of Mines, in the quarterfinals.
At that point, Bronkhorst very much looked the part of a college quarterback.
"He's got a big arm, he can move well in the pocket, he has good speed," Girsch said. "What he's done over his career here, how he changed his body physically, he's a mountain of a man. He's strong, he's put together well. He did everything he had to do to put himself in position to do what he's doing now.
"He was focused and locked in. He knows the playbook inside and out, what we're trying to accomplish. He's done a great job of doing everything extra he had to do to play that position. We're so comfortable with him, he does a lot of his own checks at the line of scrimmage, he has some freedom to do that and that comes from the trust we have in him. Everything you ask him to do he does it and then some."
Now he's put his program on the cusp of something special.
"It's all just hard work coming to fruition," Bronkhorst said. "That's what we do as a team, we've worked hard for years to build to this moment. It's nice to see it come together.
"The excitement is extremely high. We have another big game, another game of setting records for the season, trying to become the best team in ASU history. (Colorado School of Mines) is a team we really know, we've played them twice now and we still have a bad taste in our mouth from last year when they knocked us out in the exact same round.
"It's a big game and we're all extremely excited to go out and play them."
When Bronkhorst and his teammates take the field Saturday, they will have a lot of work to show, which begins to speak of the journey Bronkhorst has taken to lead his team to LeGrand Stadium.
Bret Bloomquist can be reached at 915-546-6359; email@example.com; @Bretbloomquist on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: QB Zach Bronkhorst works to the top for Angelo State