The Vikings' undrafted punter, Zach Von Rosenberg, is unlike most NFL rookies.
Von Rosenberg, who turns 31 in September, is pursuing a second career in pro sports as he competes this summer with incumbent punter Britton Colquitt for the Vikings' job.
He was first a coveted pitcher as a two-time Mr. Baseball in Louisiana and a 2009 draft pick by the Pirates. After six years in the minor leagues, ended by an injury and lingering numbness in his throwing hand, he walked onto LSU's campus in 2016 and tried his hand at tight end and quarterback before sticking as a punter. He won a national championship with the Tigers in 2019 and ranked fourth last year in the SEC with a 43.9-yard average.
The Star Tribune recently chatted with Von Rosenberg about his journey and goals with the Vikings. Von Rosenberg was a guest on last week's Access Vikings podcast. You can listen to the interview here. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What's it been like as the oldest Vikings rookie so far?
A: It's been fun because it reminds me of when I was 18 signing with the Pirates and you get that, I don't know, giddiness or the excitement of just going somewhere new. I'd been at LSU for so long – over five years, really – and I was the veteran guy, the old guy on the team and now I'm coming to a completely different dynamic. I have no experience here. The last time I was in Minnesota, I was throwing a baseball at the old Minnesota Twins stadium. That would've been in 2008 [at the Perfect Game National Showcase]. So, it's been a long journey to get back here in a completely different sport, which is crazy.
Q: What's motivating you to pursue the NFL now?
A: I didn't at first. My first goal was to be the punter at LSU. I was completely content with being a starting punter in the SEC and winning a national championship at LSU, you know? But in that developmental process and realizing how fresh my legs were, because there was an eight-year span there where I wasn't kicking footballs. During that period of rest, if you will, getting back in football shape to play other positions, I realized how strong my leg was still. Over the course of five years developing that and constantly trying to get better, you progress to the point where, you know, maybe I am good enough. You have that realization where you're hitting consistently, and your leg strength is on par with NFL punters. I'm one of those people that love to change their goals. Once I reach a goal or accomplish something, I always have to strive for something else.
Q: You're not just aiming for a summer in camp?
A: Absolutely. I know because I am 30 now, I've had to change the way I do things. That comes with the territory of wanting to do things. You have to make sacrifices that maybe other people aren't willing to make, in terms of clean eating, drinking more water, I know it sounds cliché, but taking care of your body is the most important thing for longevity in any athletic sport. That's why Tom Brady is still around. So at some point you have to make a decision of I can't be doing certain things, can't be eating all this fried food anymore, even though I'm from Louisiana. Those little sacrifices are the things that'll be big later on when you're trying to have a 5-, 6-, 8-, even 10-year NFL career. Adam Vinatieri kicked until he was 46 years old. I'd say my leg is way more fresh than his, because he kicked his entire life. The joke is I have a young leg, right? My shoulder is probably not that young, it's been throwing baseballs my whole life.
Q: Speaking of your shoulder, you took practice reps as LSU's No. 2 quarterback because of COVID protocols last year?
A: I did. I actually have some good film if you want me to send it to you, it's pretty hilarious.
Q: By hilarious you mean it didn't go well?
A: No, it went great, that's the funny part. Unexpectedly good, I guess. I was talking a little bit of smack. I took it very, very seriously. Probably to a fault, but I'm a very competitive person. It's probably helped me get to this level, but I take pride in my competitiveness. I don't care if we're playing ping pong, I'm going to win. I take that attitude to literally everything. It's probably a fault. At certain points of my life, my parents probably hated it because I never let my younger brothers win at anything. But they just got the same treatment my older brothers gave me. That competitiveness is my edge.
Q: What's the most difficult thing you've done in sports?
A: Shoot, putting on that 40 pounds [to become an LSU tight end] was rough. That was definitely up there. That was a grind. I'll say I'm happy I don't have to walk across campus carrying that 260 pounds, because that was misery. I'd essentially consume 2,000 calories before 10 a.m. every day. On top of that, I'd have two protein shakes – at least 2,000 calories each – and just eat like I was a competitive, like that guy that eats the hot dogs, I'd eat like that guy every day. It was one of those things where I saw the writing on the wall. Even though I'd gained all that weight, my speed and my agility and my ability went down at that weight. It was too much too fast. I wasn't built to be that big.
Q: You brought up ping pong. Did you pick that up in baseball clubhouses?
A: Yeah, over the course of six years in the minor leagues, you play a bunch of whether it be Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Venezuelans, they're all unbelievable ping pong players. You get tired of getting beat. Being competitive and knowing I can get better, I made sure I improved enough to give them a run for their money, and eventually I got really good at ping pong and pool. I take more pride in ping pong because it's more action; pool is a little slow for me.
Q: What do you want to do when it's not sports?
A: That's something I keep putting off. I've pursued athletics so hard. The cliché thing for me to say would be to be a coach, but I feel like in this day and age I'd be too hard. Shoot, I can't imagine my poor son one day. I had a military dad and my oldest brother, Josh, took me under his wing. So you can just imagine how strict my upbringing was and how structured around sports it was. The best part was I wanted to be the best baseball player in Louisiana, in the whole southeast region, every day I wanted to do something. It wasn't like they were pushing me that hard, I was the one asking them to do stuff. But coaching is something I'd like to adopt. I want to play this game as long as the Minnesota Vikings will let me play. I think I'm doing everything in my power I need to play. I don't think it's unrealistic to play 10 years.
Q: You pitched against Byron Buxton in the minors?
A: I pitched against him and Miguel Sano. That would've been in Florida in the Florida State League.
Q: How difficult was it to move on from baseball due to injury?
A: The best way to put it is, put all that frustration and failure with myself and how my baseball career went – because I felt it didn't occur on my terms – I applied that to football in the sense I took out my frustrations in the weight room at LSU. I got really, really strong those first two years, to the point where I needed to slim up to be a punter. Because that first dream ended, and I didn't have a good coping mechanism because I'd never really failed at baseball. Once the failure finally happened, I guess, I was fortunate to have another sport to jump right into. As a walk on, I could go into the weight room five days a week with Tommy Moffitt, who's a legendary strength coach, and get my lift on and play some screamo music as loud as I wanted to and go to town.
Q: You almost moved on from sports after baseball?
A: I had a [job] opportunity, but my mom was like, look, you promised me in 2009 you'd go back to school. I was going to go to work in West Texas and just be an oil man, but I decided I should go to school instead. There's money to be made out in West Texas, in Midland, the Permian Basin. There's a bunch of spots out there you can do really well with no college degree. But it's a grind to be away from your family and everybody you know.
Q: What was it like being the oldest player in college football in 2020?
A: It was strange. COVID made it worse, because we didn't get to become familiar with our incoming players because of that spring and summer were awkward. That's when you get to know the young guys and once that was taken away from us, we went into fall camp and you barely know anybody. You just show up and this is our team. Plus all the protocols, you couldn't do certain things, it made it a very difficult season in terms of forming team camaraderie. Being the oldest guy in college football was strange because I didn't know how to take it. I'd always had that guy in Colorado [33-year-old kicker James Stefanou] my entire career, like cool I'm not the oldest. Then finally he was done and now, ah, great, I'm going to hear this everywhere I go.
Q: How did college teammates treat you?
A: A lot of guys just asked me about pro sports because it is so different than college. Guys were seeking to understand the dynamic of how things shift from college to professional leagues. That was more the questions I got than anything. At the same time, yeah, a little bit of life advice because being 30 years old you do have more experiences. Heck, you pay taxes. Lot of guys in college don't have to worry about that until they get to the NFL or a job.