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With an unusual name, Zoltan Mesko took an unusual path to Michigan

Former Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko shares his path that he took to Michigan and how his unusual name helped him with recruiting.


A punter isn't exactly a position that brings much fanfare to a football team. However, according to NFL Network's Rich Eisen, punters are people too.

When a kid named Zoltan Mesko walks through the doors of Schembechler Hall in the mid-2000s, it's almost impossible to miss that name on a media guide. When it caught on, it turned into a frenzy. It started with the student section throwing up a "Z" any time he would come up to punt, he even earned the nickname "Space Emperor."

However, to an 11-year-old kid arriving from Hungary to the United States, it was just a name.

"Piggy-backing off Ashton Kutcher and Dude Where's My Car? where they throw up the 'Z' for their God in that movie," Mesko joked. "At first when I came to the US, I hated my name. I wanted to change it. It wasn't translated like my parents names. My parents names were translated to Michael and Elizabeth and I have this weird name."

Although Mesko may have hated it at first, his unusual name did end up helping him a few years down the line.

"But, it ended up working out in my favor as far as recruiting goes. When you have John Smith the punter coming in, or any other type of recruit, my name kind of engraves itself to your skills. Where they're like, 'that weird guy with the Z name. I just welcomed the love from the fans, it was a humbling experience."

Rated as a top-5 punter in the country by the major scouting websites, Mesko was unaware of his abilities at first. It was only after he went to football camps and dominated the other punters that he started looking towards the next level.

No matter where he was going to go, academics always came first.

With immigrant parents that came to the United States with no savings to speak of, Mesko thought he would be taking out a loan to attend a prestigious school like Carnegie Mellon or Case Western. At least, that was the original idea.

It wasn't until Michigan came calling that changed those plans.

Originally growing an Ohio State fan in Cleveland, even with a personalized Buckeye jersey, he always had respect for the Wolverines and would be willing to listen to what they had to say.

"In combination with the academics, I couldn't make a better choice with the national exposure the football program receives and what a great academic institution Michigan is," Mesko said. "It was the best of both worlds."

With Mesko firmly committed to the Wolverines, his childhood team would come knocking two hours later with a scholarship offer. From June 2004 all the way to National Signing Day, the Buckeyes would apply the full-court press towards Mesko and his family to take an official visit to campus. However, it was too little too late for Mesko, he decided staying true to his word and remain committed to the Wolverines.

The path to stardom at Michigan went off to a slow start. Failing to gain an edge over Ross Ryan, he was redshirted his freshman year. An experience that Mesko said that was very humbling and knocked him down to earth. Even through the humbling process, former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr was always honest throughout the process.

"There was always an honesty about Coach Carr," Mesko said. "In the college football world, I wasn't brave enough, and neither are a lot of people brave enough, to ask your coach where you stand. You just keep your mouth shut and work hard, things are going to pan out because if your job is incentivized by wins then you're going to put the best guy out there."

Mesko would go on to appear on All-Big Ten lists during his time at Michigan, and even spent a few years in the NFL with the Patriots, Steelers and Bengals.

"Coach Carr is a like a second grandpa to me, he's unbelievable," Mesko said. "He tried to teach us a lesson every single day. Every single day we went into team meetings he was going to tell us a certain story. He always quoted Shakespeare and recited poetry to us. I do believe the little things, and all the things Coach Carr did prepared us for life."

"That's the one thing that the guys bought into, is that he cared about you getting your degree first. If it meant you coming late to practice and you getting your degree instead, he was fine with that. That's why people love him so much is because he cared about you first. By the way, Brady Hoke is that kind of coach."

There's more to a name than just letters, there's a story behind every person. Although Mesko's story, like his name, is unusual, he will always be aided by the guidance of Carr and the Michigan football program shaping him into the man he has become today.

For more information on the Zoltan Mesko Foundation, you can view the website here.

For more news and notes on Michigan Football, follow Joshua Henschke on Twitter: @JoshuaHenschke.