RICHMOND – It takes toughness, persistence and versatility to play any spot on the football field, but especially inside linebacker. Third-year pro Zach Vigil is working to show he has those qualities as he battles for a spot on the 53-man roster despite being at a crowded position.
Undrafted out of Utah State in 2015, the 6-foot-2, 238-pound Vigil signed with Washington late last season and appeared in two games while playing on special teams. Now, he’s trying to prove himself again in an even deeper inside linebacker group led by Will Compton, Mason Foster, Zach Brown and Martrell Spaight.
Vigil is no stranger to toughness. He and his brother, Nick, who is a second-year linebacker with Cincinnati, used to ride bulls growing up in Utah. It wasn’t until a scary incident that they shifted their dream of becoming professional bull riders to pro football players.
In today’s Training Camp Q&A, Vigil talks about his bull-riding background and the football bond he shares with his brother.
How did you get started in bull riding?
“Growing up, we grew up kind of in the country and one of my cousins was a bull-rider and me and my brother, that’s what we wanted to do: ride bulls. So, we kind of just grew up with it.”
They start you out on sheep, right? What was that like?
“It was fun. That’s what we did, and in the summertime, we did a lot of traveling to rodeos. We were on a couple circuits, and it was a lot of fun.”
How old were you when you graduated from sheep to bulls?
“Probably 6. I mean, they were calves, not bulls. Then it goes up to steers and then bulls. But yeah, we were riding 2-year-old bulls at that time. Still big animals.”
Why’d you guys stop?
“I got hurt when I was 12. They thought I broke my neck. I had a scary ambulance ride, I guess, and my parents said, ‘You’re done.’ I got bucked off and fell on my head. Like I said, they thought it was more serious than it was.”
Is there an art to falling and avoiding injury?
“Yeah, there is. If you’re riding good, you have a lot more control. I wasn’t. He came out hard and stopped and I went right and hit my head. There’s an art to it. But when you’re getting bucked off, there’s no control at that point.”
Did you start playing once you stopped riding?
“No, we played football the whole time. We would miss practices and stuff to go to rodeos. My dad would tell the coaches, ‘Hey, rodeo is first.’ And after that, obviously it switched.”
Have you always played linebacker?
“Growing up I played everything. Running back, linebacker, D-end, tight end, corner, receiver. I had a lot of weight fluctuations as a kid, so I played a lot of different spots.”
Could you have ever imagined that you and your brother would both make it to the NFL?
“That’s every little kid’s dream, right? We just happen to be living it right now, so it’s pretty cool.”
What was the key for you two?
“I don’t know, man. A lot of hard work, and God had his hand in it, so that’s what I attribute it to.”
Do you lean on each other as you try to make it in this league?
“Yeah. We talk quite often. He’s in camp right now, too, so we talk every couple days. So it’s just good to hear a familiar voice. Nick and I played together in college too, so we’re very close.”
Does he learn more from you, or do you learn more from him?
“I think at this point it’s mutual. We’ve both learned from each other, and we both have things that we can work on that the other person is better at. Things he does better, I’ll ask him about, and things I do better, he’ll ask me about.”
What was it like coming in so late last season and trying to earn a role?
“I was thankful for an opportunity by the Redskins to be able to play for some games to help try to make the playoffs. Obviously, it didn’t work out, but I’m happy to be here. I’m just trying to get better every day. There’s a lot of things I can clean up to improve my command of the defense and prove to myself that I can play at the level that I believe I can play at.”
How important is versatility when you’re in your position?
“At linebacker, it’s huge. At linebacker, we have three good guys that are working with the [starters] for sure. After that, it’s a battle for the backup spots. And special teams is huge if you’re a linebacker, especially a backup. You’ve got to show you can play well on defense and really well on [special] teams. That’s what I’m trying to put on film.”
Do you think you’ll ever get back into rodeo once you’re done with football?
“Not rough stock. I’m too big to rough stock. There’s other facets of rodeo that I can get involved with, roping and things like that.”
Do you do any of the other stuff already?
“Yeah, we do some team-roping when I go home in the offseason, and I train horses.”
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