Playing with the End in Sight
Zach Ertz is one of the National Football League’s premier receiving tight ends. Suiting up in 123 games over nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, the 31-year-old has 579 receptions to his name, totaling over 6,000 yards to go with 38 receiving touchdowns.
With the emergence of the younger Dallas Goedert in Philadelphia, offseason trade rumours surrounding the 31-year-old Ertz began to swirl out of control. But with no trade completed, the Eagles’ 2013 second round draft pick reported to training camp and suited up in midnight green for the opening six games of the season. Jockeying for position opposite from Goedert, Ertz collected 189 yards and two touchdowns in the process.
But it was upon his exit from Lincoln Financial Field following his Week 6 Thursday Night Football loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers that the Philly faithful began to wonder if they had in fact seen the last of their beloved 6-foot-5, 250-pound inside receiver. The local television feed spotted Ertz stepping aside from teammates as he made his way off the field. Later Ertz shook hands with venue staff before sharing a moment of heartfelt conversation with Eagles’ head of team security Dom DiSandro prior to entering the locker room.
And sure enough, just hours later fans learned that the front office had informed Ertz that once the game against Tom Brady and the Bucs concluded, he would be traded to the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.
“Being able to play my last game at home was special,” Ertz said after news of the trade officially broke. “I don’t know if it was a salary cap thing or whatever it was. But the fact of the matter is I enjoyed my last game – my last night – knowing that I was going to not be here. I didn’t really talk to anyone about it during the week. I talked to (my wife) Julie about it, I talked to my agent about it, but I just wanted to focus on the task at hand to go out and win a football game. I wasn’t going to let something that was in the future affect my preparation for the week.”
Although fully aware of the situation at hand, Ertz did not let the pending transaction hinder his play. Scoring a touchdown on Philadelphia’s first drive of the game, the Eagles receiver finished the game with four receptions and a touchdown, moving to within 11 catches of the franchise’s all-time receptions leader Harold Carmichael (589 receptions).
“It was awesome,” Ertz said of his opening drive touchdown reception. “I think I spiked the ball so hard it disappeared; it was surreal. I wanted to win the game, obviously, but catching a touchdown on the first drive was fun and kind of just allowed me to play free the rest of the game and not really worry about anything else but trying to win the football game.”
Big On and Off the Field
Despite keeping his focus on football during game days and practices, much of Ertz’s off-time has been spent at Grace and Peace Community Fellowship – a church based in the Hunting Park neighbourhood in North Philadelphia. He and his wife Julie recently announced the House of Hope Project through the Ertz Family Foundation.
A project designed to help curb gun violence, trauma, and endangered youth, Rev. Rob Whitmire of Grace and Peace Community Fellowship, will operate the House of Hope to provide a sustainable place of hope and refuge to many underprivileged and underserved youth within Philadelphia.
“It’s the old church that we are completely revamping and turning it into a wifi café for kids after school,” Ertz said when asked about House of Hope. “It’s going to be a church on Sunday and a wifi café. They wanted to raise around $1.1 to 1.2 million. We’re around $750K; Julie and I donated 100K by ourselves, the foundation donated another 100K… Just because I’m not physically here doesn’t mean I’m not going to be here continually.”
From the Ertz Family Foundation website:
“The goal for the House of Hope is to remodel and expand the building into a safe haven committed to delivering social change and transforming lives by developing and implementing enrichment programs and services in North Philadelphia.”
Ertz’s passion for the project runs deep and its focus remains a top priority, even though he will now be helping from afar.
Taking out a full-page ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer to thank the city that gave him his start in the NFL, Ertz wrote passionately about his time with the Eagles, the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship and the many relationships he and Julie have built over his nine years in Pennsylvania.
“To be able to celebrate the Lombardi trophy down Broad Street with millions of you was the greatest thing I have ever experienced in my football career,” he wrote. “The joy and happiness within each individual was tangible and all I can say is that you guys deserved every single minute of that… I came here as a kid and leave here a man forever thankful and forever committed to this city. Philly, we are world champions and no one can ever take that away from us. This is home. Philadelphia is home.”
Ertz signed off with his name, followed by the verse Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he shall direct your paths.”
Although his playing career in Philadelphia has seemingly come to an emotional conclusion, Ertz did manage to joke with reporters that his time with the Eagles may not quite be finished.
“At the end of the day I’m just 11 catches away from the all-time record,” he laughed. “If you told me coming into the league that I would be second all-time in this great organization’s history, it would be an unbelievable achievement in my eyes. But who knows, maybe I’ll come back and make 12 catches and Harold (Carmichael) can go to No. 2. I’ll let him have it for a few more years I guess, or maybe forever. But it’s been fun.”