Former UW-Oshkosh football player Zach Harrod is using the skills and lessons he learned as a defensive back under then defensive coordinator and current Titan head coach Pat Cerroni to direct his own team – the Prague Lions – in the upstart semi-pro Czech League of American Football (CLAF).
Harrod, who was a member of the UW-Oshkosh football program from 2000-03, moved to the Czech Republic with Athletes in Action after graduating from the university in December 2003 with a degree in religious studies.
Harrod joined the Lions as a player in 2004. After two seasons of helping the team to the league championship, Harrod's Athlete in Action missionary organization moved him back to the United States in 2006. Harrod returned to the Czech Republic in 2007 and has been involved with the Prague Lions and his missionary work ever since.
In 2009, the Lake Geneva native went from playing for the Lions to serving as the program's head U19 coach and assistant adult semi-pro coach.
"My heart is for coaching in the Czech Republic," Harrod said. "I am able to speak the language of American football, and as a result, change lives."
Harrod, who led the U19 team to five championships over an eight-year period, took ownership of the Lions organization with six others prior to the start of this past season and became the head coach of the adult semi-pro team.
"A year ago, I almost walked away from the Lions and football in general," Harrod said. "After talking with my wife, my father, my family and doing a ton of praying, I decided to not step back but step forward."
That step forward was the right decision for Harrod and the Lions. With his leadership, the team strung together a 9-1 regular season record and won its semifinal game, 42-20, over the Vysocina Gladiators to earn a spot in this year's Czech Bowl.
Six days after welcoming his second son – Artur František – Harrod and the Lions were the best in the CLAF, winning the league title with a 29-23 victory over the Ostrava Steelers in Czech Bowl 25 on July 20. The Lions pulled out the win with a touchdown during the final two minutes of play.
"To win a national championship in year one of this new phase is like a dream or a movie," Harrod said.
Harrod, who played in 26 games for the Titans, credits much of his recent coaching success to Cerroni's leadership during his days at UW-Oshkosh.
"Playing for Coach Cerroni was tough, but amazing, said Harrod. "His influence wasn't just with X's and O's, but also with leadership development and developing men of character. His work at UW-Oshkosh inspired me to start our own leadership program called SRDCE LVA (Heart of a Lion)."
Harrod and his wife, Míša, work for an organization called TEAM our of Wheaton. They also lead a local church and feed the homeless in Prague.
Written by Liz Smith, UW-Oshkosh University Marketing & Communications