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For the Lines, SMU Football Is a Family Tradition

SMU running backs Zach Line (36) and Prescott Line (29) on the sidelines during a Mustang game this fall. Photo: Prescott Line
SMU running backs Zach Line (48) and Prescott Line (29) on the sidelines during a Mustang game. Photo: Prescott Line

Zachary and Prescott Line slapped hands in the chilly Michigan air. “See you in a month,” 19-year-old Prescott said to Zach. He was going to miss his big brother while he was gone, but the two were used to being apart.

Both boys had once said goodbye to their hometown of Oxford, Mich. to play football for a program better known for its ’80 death penalty than for being a powerhouse. But Zach and Prescott felt fortunate to make the move – they didn’t have much of a choice if they wanted football to remain a part of their lives. Aside from one other school – Robert Morris University for Zach and Central Michigan University for Prescott – SMU was the only place to offer either Line the opportunity to play college football.

In January, Zach, 23, departed Dallas for Florida along with teammate Margus Hunt, to train for the NFL combine. During Zach’s senior season, he was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,207 yards and 12 touchdowns. Post-combine, NFL.com predicts that Zach could be selected between the fourth and seventh rounds at the April 25 draft.

While Prescott joined his brother and the SMU community as a freshman last fall, he was redshirted to maximize his college playing time. This upcoming season will mark the official start of his SMU football career.

So how could colleges have overlooked these athletes?

“Because you can’t measure heart for the game,” SMU running backs coach Wes Suan explained.

Suan, who’s worked one-on-one with both players, said he is “amazed” by how close in character the two are, and claimed they have the same positive personality traits. He described the Line brothers as “passionate and motivated,” with a remarkable work ethic and attention to detail.

“We just love those guys because of their commitment to the game and their character skills,” Suan said. He supposed those traits “just weren’t recognized” by other Division-I schools. These qualities are what he believes have allowed Zach to perform at such a high level, and will enable Prescott to do the same. As both players have proven, these variables are indefinable. With Zach averaging 108 yards per game, other schools’ losses have been SMU’s gain. Though the program will experience a loss of its own when he graduates, Prescott is ready to step up.

And while Zach admitted that he and his brother can be competitive in games like chess, he made clear that, “As far as football goes, we’re for each other, not against each other. When it comes to the things that matter, such as our relationship, we’re not going to do anything to harm that.”

The boys’ father, Joe, reiterated this point: “For things that aren’t of real consequence, like a thumb war, they’re as silly as can be…But when it comes to real stuff, like football, the boys are massively respectful of one another.” All in all, Joe described the sibling rivalry between his sons as nothing more than “good, clean, competitive, wrestling, fun.”

Zach focuses on competing with himself, not his brother. His attitude towards the situation is perfectly in line with how his coach described him. “If he beats my record, he beats my record,” Zach said. “I had my time, and I do my thing.” At the same time, he’s always ready to help his brother, and Prescott helps him in return. “When we leave the field we usually get to our places later at night to correct all our mistakes that we might have had on film,” Prescott said.

Zach concluded that he and Prescott “share a mutual respect for each other, knowing how hard it is to go down this road.”
The feeling is mutual, as Prescott considers Zach his role model, and would be honored to follow his path.

“If a job needs to be done, he will be the guy to get it done for you,” Prescott said of his brother. “He’s a big-time team player, and a big-time team leader,” he said. “I’ll always be there to support him.”

Suan added that Zach has always stepped up to whatever role is asked of him. He recalled their game against the Naval Academy in 2011, when Zach hurt his foot but played through the pain until the game ended. After the game, doctors discovered that Zach had torn the tendon in the bottom of his foot and was done for the rest of the season. “For a lot of athletes, it would have been easy to slow down and call it quits,” Suan said. “But not Zach.”

Looking towards the future, Suan has high hopes for the brothers and is excited to watch what’s in store for them – and perhaps another Line down the road. Prescott isn’t the youngest Line running back, after all: 17-year-old Ben is a junior, back at home in Michigan.

Erica Robbie is a D Magazine intern.