Q&A with Senior Student-Athlete Zach Hass
A little about Zach Hass
Case Western Reserve University senior Zach Hass is a self-admitted “stat geek.” Most people like him don’t usually run first string at free safety for a championship-level college football program. Despite this, however, Hass hopes that his unique passion for statistics will help continue his career in sports – in a field that most probably don’t even know exists.
Growing up in Wisconsin for the first 16 years of his life, Hass spent his free time simulating football seasons with statistics from newspaper box scores on pen and paper – for fun. He also grew up as the son of a high school football coach and became involved in the sport as a kindergartner.
When he reached high school, Hass’ family packed up and moved to Peru, Indiana where he finished up his secondary education and began planning for the next step. Hass ultimately decided to come to Case Western Reserve to study statistics and economics, as well as play football.
As a freshman and sophomore, he mostly served in a reserve role as the Spartans won 20 consecutive regular season games. As a junior, however, he finally earned the chance to start at free safety and helped continue the winning for another 18 straight contests. During Hass’ time on the team, Case claimed three University Athletic Association titles and made three NCAA Division III playoff appearances. Individually, Hass took home three UAA All-Academic awards and also earned second-team All-UAA honors as a senior.
With his football career at its end, Hass now plans to continue his education in statistics and is hoping to break into the professional sports industry. His list of dream jobs, mostly centered around the process of data-mining, consist of working for Stats Inc., the Elias Sports Bureau or an NFL franchise.
He got a head start by pitching in at the Spartan football office, where Hass has used his talents to help the coaching staff with its game preparation. He is also engulfed with a senior project aimed at a full simulation of the 1994 strike-shortened Major League Baseball season. He says it’s really tough to program for the playoffs, but during his first 150 simulations, he projected 88 percent of the time that the Cleveland Indians would make the playoffs – not that it’s any consolation to the local fans in Cleveland.
In this edition of Spartan Spotlight, Zach sat down for a little Q&A to explain a bit more about his stat fascination and his decision to come to Case, as well as his experience playing football during one of the most impressive streaks in college football history.
What made you interested in sports statistics to begin with?
“When I was little, just for fun, I would try to simulate sports seasons. I would actually go through and get the newspaper and take the players’ stats and create ratings. I would use dice to randomly simulate the games. I would keep track of the standings and everything. But, I figured, if that’s what I like to do for fun then I would probably enjoy going deeper into that kind of thing.”
How did you end up at Case Western Reserve via Wisconsin and Indiana?
“The first thing I did, when I was looking at schools, was make a spreadsheet of all the schools that had a statistics program and all the schools that were recruiting me for football. It was kind of a short list, but Case seemed like a really good fit. It’s in a major sports market, has great football facilities and a stellar academic reputation. So I figured I’d get the education I’d need and maybe open a door into the sports world, and be able to play football.”
Obviously you came to Case expecting to do well in football, but probably didn’t expect to be undefeated for three years in a row. At what point did you feel like you were part of something really special?
“When we made the playoffs that first year, that’s when I realized that it was special. Because even though we kept winning we were thinking, ‘we’re having a good run, but maybe the opponents just aren’t as good.’ And I had no concept of who we were playing, not having grown up around here. I still didn’t expect to go undefeated the next year, but by the third year I think we all expected to keep it going.”
How did you handle your first couple of seasons as a backup?
“In high school, I was on the varsity basketball team as a sophomore and I wasn’t necessarily the best player. I think I made it as high as the eighth man in the rotation. I sat on the bench for the first three years of high school, so having to work hard and not getting to play was something that I was accustomed to going through. My dad told me, ‘you know when you go to college, everyone on the team is going to be one of their high school’s best players, so you might have to wait it out and try to make it on special teams as a sophomore and shoot for being a starter by your junior year,’ and that’s mostly what happened to me. I didn’t make special teams until I was a junior, but I kind of had the expectation that it was going to be hard and it was going to take a while.”
What was it like when you finally saw your name written in as a starter?
“It was scary. By then, we had a pretty long streak going and, as a free safety, I’m in charge of making all the checks and there were some seniors that had played for three or four years already and it was my job to give them the checks. So, yeah, it was scary. I felt a lot of responsibility trying to keep things going and perform at a high-level, and I wasn’t sure if I could in the beginning because I hadn’t done it yet. But I think after the first solid hit, I started to feel better."
With your dad being a football coach, what was your involvement in football like at such a young age?
“My dad let me be on the sidelines when I was in kindergarten and I was taking the water out and stuff like that. By the time I was in fifth grade, I had a set of keys to the equipment room, so I felt pretty important.”
Has there been a time since football ended when you’ve thought about everything the team accomplished and how amazing it all was?
“I think the further away I get, the more special it will seem looking back. It does seem very special now, especially looking at the rings. It’s not something I expected to happen. You know, going to play D-III football I was just thinking of it as an opportunity to play for four more years and have some fun, hopefully win more than we lose. Then to do what we did, it was very special, but I think it will sink in more the farther away it gets.”
Note: “Spartan Spotlight” is a bi-weekly to monthly series that highlights a Case Western Reserve University student-athlete and his/her exploits on and off the playing field. The series is meant to provide an inside look at the unique backgrounds of Spartan student-athletes and show what it takes to succeed athletically and academically at one of the nation’s premier research institutions.