Three months before Zack Golditch played the football season of his life, he was in the movie theater that captured the nation’s gaze.
A masked intruder burst through an emergency exit at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., tossing smoke canisters into the audience and firing a shotgun, a semiautomatic rifle and a handgun. He killed 12 people and injured 70 more, 58 from the gunfire.
Golditch, 17 years old at the time, was in the cinema next door. He heard bangs and pops. A bullet tore through the wall between the two auditoriums and struck a person seated nearby. Then another one came through the wall and hit Golditch in the throat.
He held his neck and ran outside. The bullet was fractions of an inch from ripping open his carotid artery, which makes his signing by the Arizona Cardinals off the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad earlier this week all the more improbable.
“I was able to walk, talk, breathe and think. In my eyes, I was just badly injured,” Golditch told USA Today. “The thought of losing my life, not being able to function properly, not being able to see, breathe, smell and move was not of my concern because my flight response kicked in.”
His wounds healed in time for him to play his senior season at Gateway High in Aurora. He played on both sides of the ball. He amassed 62 tackles, 20 for a loss and 11 sacks on defense during 2012 season and led an offensive line that paved the way for 43 rushing touchdowns.
Recruited to Colorado State, he was an all-Mountain West guard who played snaps at tackle and center, too, when the Rams struggled with injuries.
Golditch went unselected in this spring’s NFL Draft and bounced between teams' practice squads and the bottom of depth charts through the first half of the season. Then, Arizona not only signed him, it slotted him as second-string right tackle ahead of Sunday’s game with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But there isn’t a day that passes, Golditch told USA Today, that he doesn’t think back to the attack that nearly killed him.
“I don’t know the anatomy of the neck, but I was told I was pretty lucky,” he said.
Golditch still has nightmares about the shooting that he tries to brush aside with the thought that even with his neck split open, he didn’t witness the horror that took place on the other side of the wall.
He had football to look forward to in the weeks after the tragedy. He said it made things “feel more normal.”
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