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College quarterback loves his roles as a star of stage and turf

By Hannah G. Johnson

Zach Fogel plays Billy Cane in “Bright Star.” John Lalonde photo

Whenever Zach Fogel needs a reminder not to take off for Broadway, he reads a note he left to himself on his phone titled “Why I Play Football.” 

A multitalented sophomore at Claremont McKenna College, Fogel has been the leading man in both theater and football since elementary school. By the time he was finished with high school, Fogel was the quarterback of the football team and had played a multitude of lead roles across 14 school productions. His success in musical theater led him to perform in New York City at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in summer 2018, where he was encouraged to stick around and take a shot at a Broadway career fresh out of high school.

When the temptation to abandon college to pursue acting full time gets overwhelming, Fogel only needs to read his own words to remember why he stays in the game: “It’s the greatest game ever created and I GET to play it. I don’t HAVE to. I GET to.”

Claremont McKenna-Harvey Mudd-Scripps Colleges photo

Although it’s sometimes difficult to juggle his dual passions, Fogel has managed to strike a balance. Rather than attend an acting conservatory or a school better known for football to pursue just one of his interests, he decided on Claremont McKenna so that all doors would remain open. This way, Fogel gets to play quarterback for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags while also doing professional theater and performing in his a cappella group. Needless to say, he’s quite busy. 

“In order to play Friday night football games, in order to have Thursday nights and Saturday nights of theater, it takes me having those daily schedules of not having any free time,” Fogel says. 

“I don’t have time to hang out — ever.” 

While theater and football have long been regarded as being completely different from one another, maybe even opposites, they share more common ground than one might think. If anyone can attest to their similarities, it would be Fogel, who says that each enterprise has taught him skills that are essential to the other. The most important of which is leadership, Fogel says. 

“The leadership skills I learned in theater are what make me a good captain in football,” Fogel says. 

Fogel’s experience in arranging extra rehearsals at his house and working with different types of people gave him the ingenuity necessary to become a personable, motivational and organized quarterback. Although most of his team never knew firsthand why Fogel loved theater so much, they admired him. “They thought it was cool I got to kiss girls on stage,” Fogel remembers. But the charisma he developed from acting helped him to persuade seven of his teammates to perform with him in a production of “Parade” during his senior year of high school. The cast ended up winning best ensemble at the Spirit of the MACY Awards (where Fogel also won best actor). 

“That was really cool to see all those guys understand what I had been doing for four years,” Fogel says. 

For as much as theater has helped Fogel with football, the versatility goes both ways. Being an athlete has given him the endurance to survive hours of rehearsals and the resilience to recover from the exhaustion of back-to-back performances. 

“Football is unique in that it pushes you in a way that — I don’t think there’s anything else in life that can compare to it,” Fogel says. “There’s nothing quite like getting the crap knocked out of you and standing up and doing it again.” 

Fogel’s dedication to football is apparent in everything about him, from the way he passionately describes the rush of scoring a touchdown to the action photos of him sporting his white jersey that are spread throughout his Instagram feed. Still, some might wonder why he sticks around when stardom and a full-time career in theater may be waiting impatiently for him somewhere else. The answer is simple, and again can be found in the Notes app on Fogel’s cellphone. 

“It’s more than a game,” Fogel wrote. “It’s a gift that eventually won’t be bestowed on me anymore, so I’m going to cherish it while I can.” 

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.