College football: Cobbers’ Zylstra making waves
MOORHEAD — The brief video clip shows Brandon Zylstra skimming across the lake, backwards on his bare feet.
“That adrenaline rush is huge,” said Zylstra, a junior wide receiver for the Concordia football team and former standout at New London-Spicer.
Barefoot water skiing is one of his favorite hobbies. The strength and balance Zylstra exhibits on the water has translated to the football field where he has a knack for making splashy plays.
“A lot of barefooting is balance and shifting of weight,” Zylstra said. “I have always felt it’s helped with my coordination.”
Zylstra transferred to Concordia from Division II Augustana following last football season. The junior is already leaving a mark early in his career with the Cobbers.
“We’ve played four games, and in every game, he’s made an impact play,” said Concordia head coach Terry Horan.
No. 22-ranked Concordia has an impact game at 1 p.m. Saturday when it hosts No. 5 Bethel at Jake Christiansen Stadium.
Both teams are unbeaten and tied for first place in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“It’s the top matchup in our conference and one of the top in the country,” Horan said.
Zylstra has scored at least one touchdown in each of Concordia’s first four games. He caught touchdown passes of 67 and 23 yards in a season-opening win against the University of Jamestown.
He had an 85-yard TD catch at Buena Vista.
In the MIAC opener against St. Olaf, Zylstra scored on a 28-yard reverse play, hurdling a defender as he crossed the goal line. Two Saturdays ago, Zylstra had a 26-yard TD catch in an upset victory at St. John’s. On that play, he made a leaping grab over a St. John’s defender at the goal line right before halftime.
Zylstra earned MIAC player of the week honors for his TD plays against St. Olaf and St. John’s.
“Brandon can turn that short play into and 80-yard gain,” said Cobbers junior quarterback Griffin Neal.
When asked earlier this week, Neal didn’t even know that Zylstra was a proficient barefoot skier. That didn’t surprise Neal, who is a former Fargo South standout.
“He doesn’t boast about anything,” Neal said. “He doesn’t boast about his stats. I never knew he water skied.”
Zylstra has 15 catches for 323 yards and four touchdowns this fall, averaging 21.5 yards per catch. That per-catch average is tops in the MIAC.
“He is not an individual stats kind of guy, although his stats do jump out at you,” Neal said.
When he was younger, Zylstra was part of the Little Crow Ski Team, which was based in New London. He was involved with that for about five years starting at around age 10. The team performed on most Friday nights during the summer.
Zylstra has done tricks ranging from 360s off jumps to being part of skiing pyramids.
“I love trying new things,” said Zylstra, who also has skydiving and surfing on his bucket list. “I always think that you have to try something once to know if you like it or not.”
Zylstra was a three-sport athlete at NLS and has high jumped 6 feet, 7 inches before. He spent two football seasons (including one redshirt) at Augustana before he chose to transfer to Concordia.
“He’s freaky athletic,” said Horan, who is in his 13th year as head coach. “We’ve had many great players in 13 years. He has to be right up there with the biggest playmakers we’ve had.”