Instincts and fast thinking are what got Zack Golditch to the NFL this season as an undrafted rookie free agent. Those two things are also what saved the Arizona Cardinals’ newest offensive lineman’s life on July 20, 2012.
Golditch was watching a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, that evening when a gunman opened fire inside the Century 16 movie complex, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others, 58 of them by gunshots. At the time, the attack had the largest number of casualties in one mass shooting in U.S. modern history.
Golditch, then a 17-year-old prep star at nearby Gateway High, was one of the lucky survivors. He was sitting in an adjacent theater when a bullet tore through a wall and struck him in the neck, nearly severing his artery. The only reason he is here today and was fortunate enough to sign with the Cardinals this week to provide some much-needed backup depth, is because of instincts and fast thinking.
“I looked up and saw somebody who got injured over my right shoulder,” he said. “Regardless, that bullet was coming for me. If I was in a different position, the doctors told me it would have been a lot worse. So I was fortunate that way. But I’m also here because I ran out. I called 911 and ran.
“I was able to walk, talk, breathe and think. In my eyes, I was just badly injured. 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.”
A fraction of an inch made the difference in Golditch’s case. The bullet that tore through his neck entered him just under his left earlobe and exited out of the left side of his neck, perilously close to his carotid artery.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of fragile stuff happening around your neck,” Golditch said Wednesday after his first full practice with the Cardinals, for whom he is now listed as their second-string right tackle. “I don’t know the anatomy of the neck, but I was told I was pretty lucky.”
There isn’t a day that goes by, Golditch said, that he doesn’t think of that horrible night in Aurora, his hometown. It’s changed his life in many ways. As tragic as the event itself was, it helped make him stronger inside. It also opened his heart and has allowed him to let more people into his circle.
“It not only showed a new side to myself,” he said, “but it showed how strong Aurora is. It showed how supportive people really are. It brought out the best in people.”
Golditch tries to think those thoughts when the nightmares come and wake him up with an evil vengeance. There is another calming aspect that sadly, is bone-chilling to hear when he says it:
“Luckily for me, I didn’t see people die. I didn’t see people get horribly wounded. I didn’t hear their screams. I was in a different theater. There were only a few people who were wounded where I was at. I ran out and I was bleeding pretty badly, but I didn’t see some of the things that other people did. That made it a little bit easier.”
So did football.
Golditch, a two-way star on the Gateway football team, rehabbed his way back for his senior season with the Olympians and earned first-team All-State honors in addition to being named his division’s Defensive Player of the Year. He relied on football, along with family and friends, to try to “get back on track” and to “make things feel more normal.”
Golditch earned a scholarship to Colorado State, where he appeared in 43 games with 38 starts over four seasons. As a starting offensive lineman, he was good enough to earn first-team All Mountain West honors as a senior last season. He didn’t get drafted, but the Chargers signed him as a rookie free agent and kept him throughout training camp and the preseason until he was released on Sept. 1.
Since then, it has been a whirlwind for the 6-5, 295-pound redhead with the affable smile. He hooked up with the San Francisco 49ers and spent the first six weeks of this season with them until being released once again and then signed with the Indianapolis Colts. After a couple weeks there, he was on the move again, this time to the Cardinals.
Arizona needed another body after losing the versatile John Wetzel to a season-ending neck injury. Like Wetzel, Golditch is a swing tackle who can also fill in at both guard positions in a pinch. He even has played some center, he said, adding, “Hey, once you get the ball in the quarterback’s hands, you’re basically a guard.”
Moving to his fourth different city in three months has been “beyond stressful,” but if there is a benefit to all the change, it’s that Golditch has been able to rely on his instincts and fast thinking.
“I’m constantly studying,” he said. “As soon as I get comfortable with learning a playbook, I have to go somewhere else and start at zero. In the two days I’ve been here so far, I understand the basics and I can get the job done if need be.
“It seems like it’s been a blessing and a curse.”
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