It’s not every day when a high school kid receives an award from a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Windsor High School senior Zach Peck can check that off his bucket list.
Peck walked into Reg Figal Gymnasium on Thursday morning shoulder to shoulder with Denver Broncos Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little in front of a pep rally packed with students, cheerleaders, band members, family and friends.
Peck and nine other student-athletes from across the country were selected as finalists for the U.S. Army-Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence, and the students will take part in a special ceremony at their school with a Hall of Famer present, as well as representatives from the U.S. Army and the Pro Football Hall of Fame from Canton, Ohio.
“Coming back to Colorado is always a special blessing for me. This is where I got started. This is where everybody knows me,” said Little following the ceremony. “But being a part of this presentation for Zach, he’s just an outstanding kid. He’s got all of the characteristics of a great leader. I talked to him a little bit, and he’s the kind of leader that we need in our community and our country. When I look at guys like Zachary Peck, I see a lot of hope for our future.”
Peck, 18, the son of Terisa and Bruce Peck of Windsor, thanked everyone from family and friends to teachers and coaches for receiving the national recognition.
“It’s pretty special. It felt like it was a red carpet event. I felt very honored to be able to receive this award,” Peck said. “Just through our Windsor football program and the hard work and dedication that coach (Chris) Jones puts into all of us, that really helped me to strive to be the best I could be. That kind of escalated my way to the top.”
Peck said spending time with Little was special.
“It was awesome. He’s such a good guy. He inspires me to be able to be there possibly one day,” Peck said.
Peck’s parents were in tears as he walked into the gym with Little.
“My dad’s this big, old dude, and he was in tears,” Peck said. “It really shows that they’re proud of me, and that’s really important to me.”
Peck’s mother said she was extremely proud of her son.
“He is a great kid, great role model and has a big heart,” Terisa Peck said. “It’s a very special day. All my family, his grandparents came from Montana, my sister and her family came over and my parents are here. It was hard to hold back the tears.”
Peck’s father said his son started playing football in the seventh grade, and he’s worked hard along the way between football and academics.
“He’s just a good person and a good kid,” Bruce Peck said. “His mom and I would like to take credit for it, but he’s very self motivated and he’s getting stronger and stronger as he’s getting older in terms of his motivation. We’re extremely blessed and fortunate.”
Peck and the other nine finalists — male and female — will travel to the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl game in San Antonio, which will be held in the Alamodome on Jan. 4, 2014, and participate in various activities. The winner of the Award for Excellence will be announced during the bowl’s awards ceremony on Jan. 3, 2014. The inaugural Award for Excellence was awarded last year to Nate Lowis from Sacred-Heart Griffin High School in Springfield, Ill.
Brock Richards, Pro Football Hall of Fame program director who was also at the ceremony in Windsor, said it’s a real joy to honor student-athletes around the country.
“It really is a way for us to take the Hall of Fame and the Hall of Famers outside of Canton and really expose them to a lot of people,” Richards said. “I think Floyd had some great encouragement and words for the students here today. It means a lot for us to honor a student-athlete like Zach, and he is truly deserving to be one of the top 10 finalists.”
The Award for Excellence program focuses on athletic achievement, excellence in academics and community involvement. Peck was the only Colorado student-athlete to receive the nomination. Other student-athletes among the 10 are from Michigan, Indiana, Arizona, Ohio, Massachusetts, Texas and Kentucky.
“Zach Peck is a representation of America in what’s good and what’s right,” Windsor High School principal Michelle Scallon said.
Little, 71, works as a special assistant to the athletic director at Syracuse University, his alma mater, and he told the audience that a positive attitude and persistence can impact people during a lifetime.
“You can’t have one without the other,” said Little, who played for the Broncos from 1967-75 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Little, who was wearing his yellow Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket during the ceremony, said that there are six fundamental components for success — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
“These are Hall of Fame qualities that will separate you from the rest of the crowd,” Little said. “It’s not where you start in life, it’s where you finish. All of us right here can be winners.”
Peck is mulling offers from various schools, but is leaning toward the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., to continue his education and play football.
Peck, a starter at defensive end for the Wizards, carries a 3.8 grade-point average and takes advanced-placement and college-level classes at Windsor High School. A member of the National Honor Society who helps coach his little brother’s football and basketball teams, Peck and his father are involved with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., which according to its website is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing and associated activities including education and outings. Peck’s father served 22 years in the Navy.
Wizards football coach Chris Jones informed Peck at the end of school last year about applying for the award.
“He’s one of those guys where some people do exactly what you ask them to do and they just use their brains, so they do that task. When you apply the heart to that action you go beyond it and you inspire others,” Jones said. “That’s one thing he’s always done for his teammates.”