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Minium: ODU Football Players Rally Around Tight End Zack Kuntz After Learning He Has Season-Ending Injury


By Harry Minium
NORFOLK – The news that Old Dominion's football team will be without tight end Zack Kuntz the rest of the season hit his teammates hard, but not for the reason you'd expect.
Yes, losing the 6-foot-8, 250-pound tight end, a transfer from Penn State, for the rest of the season leaves the Monarchs without one of their biggest offensive weapons.
But offensive lineman Leroy Thomas and cornerback Tre Hawkins III said they are more concerned about how the news will affect Kuntz rather than the team.
"I was more worried about him as a person," Thomas said. "Even outside of the facility, off the field, Zack's one of my guys.
"I know the news was definitely hard for him. We've going to be there for him and make sure his spirits stay up.
"Anything he needs, he knows I'm there for him."
"We're definitely sad for him," Hawkins added. "It's not like we're leaving Zack behind."
"We definitely have love for Zack, but if anything, he'll want us to move forward and focus on the game," he added, referring to Saturday's home game against Marshall.
Kuntz was second among the nation's tight ends in receiving last season and was expected to be a prime NFL prospect for the 2022 draft. He was injured early in ODU's 38-28 home loss to Liberty on Oct. 1.
Coach Ricky Rahne announced Kuntz will miss the rest of the season at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
Rahne said Kuntz will have surgery soon but would not say when, nor would he confirm what kind of injury that Kuntz sustained.
A junior from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, Kuntz was in part recruited to Penn State by Rahne, who was offensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions before coming to ODU. Kuntz has often said that Rahne's presence at ODU is a primary reason why he transferred here.
He saw little action in three seasons with Penn State, catching just one pass, but made the most of his chance at ODU last season, hauling in 73 passes for 692 yards and five touchdowns. He also impressed with his blocking ability and hustle.
Dozens of NFL scouts have come to ODU in part to see Kuntz as well as other Monarch players.
Rahne said any decision on his future won't be made until after the season.,
"I'll talk to him and his family and see what's best for him and go from there," he said.
"Obviously, I know he's disappointed, but he's still a major part of our team and one of our leaders. And I know that he's going to continue to help our guys prepare for each and every game."
Without Kuntz in the lineup, opposing defenses have been able to zero in on wide receiver Ali Jennings III, one of the nation's best wide receivers.
Rahne has long said that ODU needs younger players to step up at receiver, and recently, Javon Harvey and Jordan Bly have done so in a big way.
Now healthy after being slowed by nagging injuries, Bly had six receptions for 87 yards, including a couple of spectacular catches in which he snagged the ball thrown a little out of what appeared to be his reach last weekend in a 31-17 loss at Georgia State.
Bly is a sophomore from Charlotte who was a big get when Rahne signed him out of Myers Park High School.
Harvey, a redshirt sophomore from Norfolk's Lake Taylor High School, who was also a sought-after recruit, had three receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown.
They were bright spots in what was otherwise another disappointing day for the Monarch offense in at Georgia State.
Both ODU (3-5 overall, 2-2 Sun Belt) and Marshall (4-4, 1-3) will be fairly desperate for a victory when they square off Saturday at 2 p.m.
ODU has lost three of its last four and curiously, the victory came at Coastal Carolina, where the Monarchs crushed the Chanticleers, 49-21, on national TV in what was clearly their best performance of the season. Coastal (7-1, 4-1) leads the Sun Belt East Division and won at Marshall last week, 24-13.
Marshall was one of the hottest teams in the Group of 5 when the season began, pummeling Norfolk State, 55-3, at home and then upsetting nationally ranked Notre Dame, 26-21, in South Bend.
The Herd have since lost four of six games, with their two victories coming over FCS Gardener-Webb and an impressive, 26-12 victory two weeks ago at James Madison (the Dukes were without their starting quarterback).
ODU's offensive problems have occurred on third down – the Monarchs rank 129th out of 131 FBS teams in third-down conversions. That's been a real issue in trying to sustain drives and ODU ranks last in the Sun Belt in offensive plays with 488.
Marshall's problems have come in the red zone. The Herd outgained Coastal Carolina, 407-271, but failed to score after twice moving into the red zone in the fourth quarter.
The one area where Marshall has excelled has been on defense. The Herd lead the Sun Belt in total defense, passing defense and scoring defense.
Asked why Marshall's defense is so effective, Rahne said they simply have great talent and coaches.
"They have good players," he said. "They roll a bunch of guys in and out on their defensive line so those guys are able to stay fresh and continue to make plays.
"I think they also play very hard on defense, which is a credit to those kids but also to their coaches. Their defensive backs are very opportunistic. They've made a bunch of big plays."
Rahne repeated largely the same message he had for his players after Saturday's defeat.
"I thought we practiced well yesterday," he said. "But Tuesday we've got to come out . . . and every single guy has got to have the best practice of the year.
"We'll see tomorrow, but I'm confident that we will. I think we have the right character on this team that we will respond. As coaches, it's our job to make sure that we do, and I am confident that they will."
NOTES: Sideline tickets remain for the Marshall game, and unless you have tickets in hand for ODU's home game on Nov. 12 against JMU, Saturday is your last chance to see the Monarchs play at home. The JMU-ODU game is a sellout ... Prior to Saturday's game, ODU will dedicate a statue in honor of former women's basketball star Nancy Lieberman. The 9 a.m. unveiling will be held on Monarch Way adjacent to the Mitchum Basketball Performance Center. Lieberman led ODU to two national championships and a 72-2 record in her final two seasons. She helps dedicate a "Dream Court" funded by Nancy Lieberman Charities and Pepsi Friday at 4 p.m. at the East Ocean View Recreation Center. Both events are open to the public ... ODU junior Blake Watson is second in the Sun Belt in rushing with 672 yards, and averages 6.22 yards per carry ... With depth short at linebacker, Steven Williams Jr., who has also battled injuries, filled a key role at Georgia State, where he had eight tackles ... ODU has four of the top 19 tacklers in the Sun Belt – No. 1 Jason Henderson (16.13 per game), No. 17 R'Tarriun Johnson and Terry Jones (both at 6.63) and No. 19 Ryan Henry (6.57) ... Hawkins is tied for the Sun Belt and national lead with three fumble recoveries.  
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