Dalhousie’s three-time football All-Star Zack Leger is hanging up his cleats. He’s protecting his brain.
During his second year playing for Dalhousie Univeristy’s club team, Leger was offered a spot to go to the CFL combine, a three-day program with the opportunity to be scouted by coaches in the CFL. He chose to decline the offer as most athletes don’t go until their fourth year, and it was short notice.
This year, he says he’d turn down the offer if the opportunity arises again. This decision came after getting his first concussion during the fall season. He decided that his mental health is more important than the chance to play at a higher level.
“You don’t want to hurt yourself to the point of impacting your future,” said Leger. “That’s honestly one of the bigger reasons I’m not pursuing the CFL option that was there.”
Leger was introduced to football at 10-years-old after moving to Tantallon, Nova Scotia from Iqaluit, Nunavut. After years of indoor soccer, playing football outside with his friends was just what he’d wanted.
“I was looking for a sport to play cause when you’re in Iqaluit you’re pretty isolated from sports,” said Leger. “There was no grass, nothing green.”
He started to play when he tried out for the Timberlea Titans club team at 11-years-old. He thought he wasn’t going to make the cut, but went on to win defensive MVP for the team at the end of the season.
Leger went on to play for the Sir John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon after four years of club football. He met current Dal football head coach Mark Haggett, who coached him for all three years in high school.
He played as a defensive back for grade 10 and 11, the same position he played while representing Nova Scotia in the Canada Cup; the nation-wide football tournament was where a football coach from Mount Allison University recruited him to play for them.
He committed to playing for the Mount Allison Mounties with six of his friends, but only attended the university for his first year, studying business. During the year he found everything was centered around football, and there wasn’t much concern for education as long as they were playing. He transferred schools because he’s interested in taking his academics seriously.
“I was like, ‘wow this really isn’t the smart path to take. Sports are temporary, you’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you.’”
He transferred to Dal to get an undergrad in Sociology and French and agreed to play for the football club after making a deal with Haggett: let him play running back instead of linebacker.
“I always wanted to play but I was a chubby lineman, and no one would let a little chubby lineman play running back,” said Leger.
It was while playing rugby for the high school team in grade 12 that Leger learned he was better with the ball in hand, saying that he always felt more confident running with it and thought his abilities were better with the ball.
Mount Allison’s program plays in a higher-level league in the Atlantic University Sport over Dalhousie in the Atlantic Football League. But Dal’s program had one major advantage over Mount Allison.
Mount Allison “was a lot more competitive and I think the skill level was a lot higher but to be honest Dal was a lot more fun,” Leger said. “It’s a sport. It’s a game. You’re supposed to have fun.”
Leger is choosing to quit playing football after the concussion to avoid injuring his brain further.
He says, “it sucks to have to walk away but I can’t risk my brain for a sport. I mean if we were in the states and I was getting paid millions to be playing it’d be a different story.”
He is going to do his best to continue to help the team grow and reach success next year.
“I definitely want to be involved to some extent whether that’s training camp or coaching but my priority has got to be in school. I have to protect my brain, I have limited brain cells.”