The Class A state championship game isn’t the first time Isaac and Ryan Zatechka have squared off.
The cousins and sons of former Nebraska football-playing brothers Jon (Isaac) and Rob (Ryan) have had some battles before. None of them as big as Friday night’s Class A state title game.
Isaac, a senior lineman at Elkhorn South, is the starting center for The Storm. Ryan, a junior at Omaha Westside, is one of the Warriors starting defensive linemen.
Like most young boys, adolescent horseplay in the grandparent’s basement during holidays was the first time the cousins squared off. On the football field, they played a handful of series against each other when Westside and Elkhorn South played in 2019.
“It is a cool situation. How often does this happen?” Isaac’s father Jon said. “It is cool that brothers have kids within a year of each other playing in the state championship and especially this year with the pandemic and everything they have gone through to get here. I don’t want to say Rob and I are living in it but we are proud of them both for sure.”
The two are not just on opposing teams but will compete against each other almost every snap when Elkhorn South is on offense.
“I think it is going to be kind of cool,” Isaac said. “The past two years I never played against him all that much. Playing against your family is cool to see. We are going to compete against each other too so it should be fun.”
The cousins were hoping this day would come. In recent weeks they would send messages of good luck mixed with encouragement back and forth throughout the playoffs.
“We texted back and forth after the game every week and he (Ryan) said he wants one more shot at me before I graduate,” Isaac said. “Obviously holiday’s we are together so I would say we are pretty close.”
That changed this week. They haven’t talked much if at all. It’s game week and they are focusing on what they can do to help their teams win on Friday night.
“Deep down we were really hoping to face each other as a final battle at state. This week I am trying to not talk to him,” Ryan said. “On game day I’m going to wish him luck and tell him to play his hardest and leave it at that.”
Watching film of opponents for game prep is a tradition like any other for most athletes. Particularly football players. They can learn the tendencies of the opponent and what they like to do. For linemen, it can be a little more time-consuming. A number on the jersey is all the Zatechka’s focused on for the majority of the week.
“The more and more you watch it hit me,” Isaac said. “I am going against my cousin here. It is a cool thing to see that we will be going head to head against each other.”
“It was kind of like just number 63,” Ryan said of his film preparation against Isaac. “This is a man that is in my way to get to the ball carrier and I must move him.”