Moving the Chains with . . . Illinois State quarterback Zack Annexstad

Zack Annexstad has won the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week Award twice this season. (Photo by

By Dan Verdun

When they weren’t helping on the family farm, Zack and Brock Annexstad spent their time playing virtually any and all sports while dreaming about suiting up for the home-state University of Minnesota.

After all, their father, Scott, had played for the Golden Gophers in the early 1980s. Both Annexstads played well enough in high school — first in their home state and then for IMG Academy in Florida — to wind up at the same Big Ten school too.

In 2018, Zack Annexstad was named starting quarterback by Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck. According to his Illinois State biographical sketch, Annexstad is believed to be the second walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season opener.

The other?

Baker Mayfield, who later won the Heisman Trophy and was the first overall selection in the NFL Draft.

Injuries, however, took their toll on Annexstad. He sat out the 2019 season after suffering an injury in preseason training camp.

Tanner Morgan took over as the Gopher starter and set school single-season records in virtually all categories. Morgan, now in his sixth season at Minnesota, has led the Golden Gophers to the most wins in program history.

Thus, Annexstad entered the transfer portal. He committed to Illinois State in January.

Zack Annexstad

He was later joined by his older brother, Brock, who now lines up at wide receiver and returns punts for the Redbirds.

Zack Annexstad has twice won the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week Award, most recently for his Oct. 22 performance in Illinois State’s 27-21 road win over Indiana State.

Annexstad completed 24-of-38 pass attempts for a career-best 274 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in that conference victory.

He ran for two scores and threw for a pair. His second TD pass was to Brock.

Learn more about Zack Annexstad in our Prairie State Pigskin Moving the Chains Q&A:

What was it like to grow up in Minnesota?

I grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. My dad is a farmer, so I grew up in a blue collar, hard-working family. I love Minnesota. I went to school there. 

My brother and I were always in the backyard doing things. We helped my dad on the farm. We worked in the yard. We played every single sport imaginable, especially in the summertime. Summers there are beautiful. We spent a lot of time on a lake. It was always fun tubing, skiing, wake boarding or just being on a boat.

What was the toughest job you did on the farm?

Loading pigs. Anybody who loads pigs, I have a ton of respect for because that job is terrible. You’re dealing with however many pounds that pig is and you’ve got to get that thing through the aisle and onto the truck to get slaughtered. And they’re not willing at all. You’re dealing with a stubborn animal. You try to direct it, and they try to take out your knees. I’ve had some stupid encouters with them.

 Who’s the best athlete in your family?

We have a handful of athletes in our family. Everyone would probably claim that it’s them. I’m a pretty good athlete, but I don’t know that I’d claim I’m the best. 

Some of my relatives are really good, like Sam Dekker. He played college basketball (at Wisconsin) and professionally in the NBA. My dad played offensive line in college (at first Minnesota and then at Minnesota State) and in the NFL for a little bit. He had a quick little stint with the Chiefs and Redskins. 

At what point did you decide to transfer?

I knew that I wanted an opportunity to play. I wanted an opportunity to get into a good situation. I was locked into our team at Minnesota waiting for a chance to play there, but once the season was over I went into the transfer portal. I had a great conversation with all of our coaches, especially our offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and Coach (PJ) Fleck. 

I had a really great relationship with those guys. 

The day I entered the portal, I was in their offices dang near all day just talking about it. Finally, I made the decision to leave.

Zack & Brock Annexstad (Photo by @GopherFootball)

How did your brother Brock come to transfer to Illinois State?

He was planning on staying there, and then I told him it would be a good opportunity here for him. He ended up joining me. He’s getting a lot of minutes at receiver and it’s worked out really well so far. 

What appealed to you about Illinois State?

I had a handful of offers, some were from bigger schools, but it was the coaches. I have a really good relationship with our quarterbacks coach (Andy Belluomini) and with Coach (Brock) Spack. 

Noah Hickox, our defensive lineman, and I played together at Minnesota. He was here, so that helped me. Had he not been here, I probably wouldn’t be. He introduced me to the place. 

It was a mixture of all those things. I fell in love with the place, and it all worked out.

Brock (left) and Zack (right) celebrate a touchdown connection against Indiana State. (Photo by

Compare and contrast PJ Fleck and Brock Spack.

The basic, easy answer is Coach Fleck is “new school” and Coach Spack is more “old school,” but I don’t really consider him (Spack) that. They’re both great coaches and I really enjoyed playing for them. It’s fun to pick up on things they’re good at in terms of what they do, whether it’s getting the team together or coaching philosophy or whatever.

It’s cool to see the different approaches. Coach Fleck is really energized and outgoing, but Coach Spack is too. He doesn’t show it for the media as much, but Coach Spack has some juice to him.

You’re very at ease in press conferences. Have you ever thought about public speaking as a career?

I got my undergrad degree in communications at the University of Minnesota. I have no clue what I want to do whether football lasts one more day for me or 20 more years. Over the years, I’ve gotten better at it. I don’t really get very nervous about it. Some people hate public speaking, but I enjoy it and I like going through different situations involving it.

Does part of that go with the position you play since quarterbacks get interviewed more than any other position?

As quarterback, I need to be a great leader and a great voice for our offense and for our team. It’s a role I’ve really stepped into here. Being able to speak in front of guys and relay a message, whether that’s your message or the coaches’ message, is really important. 

Outside of football, what’s your favorite sport?

Baseball, 100 percent. I love baseball. In the summertime, if I have time for it, I’ll sit down and watch a whole Minnesota Twins game. I made it to three or four games this past summer. Baseball is really fun for me to watch. A lot of people say they can’t sit through and watch the whole game, but it’s relaxing to me. 

I’ve also picked up on golf. It’s trending right now with the younger generation. I played a lot more this past summer with my teammates. That was a lot of fun.

ISU has a variety of uniform combinations. Do you have a favorite?

The black ones we got to wear against Southern Illinois were cool, especially with the red helmets. I know our red and white one is more traditional, but the black ones were really cool.

Who on the ISU roster has really inspired you?

We have a lot of really good dudes on this team. This is one of the closest teams I’ve been a part of. 

Someone who brings energy every single day is (receiver) Jalen Carr. He’s from south Florida, and that kid shows up every day with a smile on his face and works hard. It may have been a (pass) route that he missed or a ball that I missed throwing to him or whatever, and he comes back to the huddle and I’ll say, “We need to do this and this” and he just smiles and says, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” He brings a great attitude, so he’s been a lot of fun to have on the team for sure.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. What’s your favorite family Thanksgiving tradition?

Nothing crazy. We’ve usually been really busy with football, but I just love being around my family with my aunts and my uncles. It’s awesome to just spend time with them. My parents come to all of our games, but it’s nice to just sit down and have some basic conversation and really good food and laugh about all the good and hard times and this and that. It’s nice.

What’s your favorite food to find on the Thanksgiving table?

I’m a big stuffing guy, but you have to make sure that every bite has to be a small piece of turkey with the stuffing included. That’s important.

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