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Zikmund overcomes injuries to be team leader for Cavaliers

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Landon Zikmund (60) celebrates a tackle for loss on Groton Area’s Lane Tietz (10) during a game earlier this season in Groton. Photo by John Davis taken 8/18/2023

Landon Zikmund has been on a roller coaster ride during his prep sports career. The Aberdeen Roncalli senior has overcome several injuries that seemed to derail his desire or opportunity to be in high school athletics.

“It’s been really difficult,” Zikmund said. “I’ve had knee surgery my freshman year and (had) shoulder surgery last year, and now I have a fractured thumb this year.”

The knee injury his freshman year almost put an end to Zikmund’s athletic career, leaving him disappointed and in despair.

“I was really bummed, especially like my knee surgery freshman year took me out for the whole season, and I didn’t even get to start” Zikmund said. “I was hurt in fall camp, so I never even got to play a game.”

The injury came with doubts in regards to whether it was worth continuing to participate in high school athletics, and football in particular.

“That put me at a point where I was really like do I even want to play football if I’m just going to be hurt,” Zikmund said. “It brought me to breaking point with the sport, honestly.”

Each injury has also put a mental strain on Zikmund, which may be the hardest part of it all.

“The mental pull has been a lot, just trying to recover and maintain trying to play on the same level as everyone else even though I’m being put back in place,” Zikmund said.

Zikmund had to learn to motivate himself each day as he worked to recover and get back into action, while also fighting obstacles that came his way.

“Going to physical therapy all the time and constantly being told you can’t do this, you can’t do this, and then I still would show up to football practice and I would want to do something,” Zikmund said. “But it was really just day-by-day telling myself ‘It doesn’t matter, do what you can do now so that you can excel later.’”

It has also been difficult for Zikmund to train in the offseason as he has had to recover instead of improve because of the injuries, although he has learned how to persevere through it all.

“It’s made it very difficult to consistently get into the offseason and continue to get better and it’s really set me back from a lot of the other athletes,” Zikmund said. “In the same sense, it’s really helped me push myself harder just because I’ve had to work that much harder than everyone else.”

Zikmund was dealt with another blow to his athletic career the summer before his junior year when he took a hit to his shoulder, which tore his labrum. Surgery would have been a six-month recovery, which would have caused Zikmund to miss his second year of prep football in his career. However, he delayed the surgery until after the season, although the injury affected his ability on the field.

“It was tough to play through that. My shoulder came out pretty much every play, if not, more than once,” Zikmund said. “Just really glad I was allowed to play, but it hindered my performance still, obviously, not having a shoulder in its socket during the play. I really realized how much of a privilege it was to play football after being able to play with an injury.”

After the season, Zikmund finally was able to have shoulder surgery, however, it meant that he would not be able to participate in basketball or tennis. Zikmund said not being able to play was harder than playing injured.

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Landon Zikmund returns a volley during a doubles match against Watertown last year at the Northern State University tennis courts. Photo by John Davis taken 5/3/2022

“That was probably harder than playing football with a torn labrum because I had to sit there,” Zikmund said. “I was tennis team manager in the spring and it was awful to sit there and watch my team.”

Roncalli football coach Billy Young said Zikmund’s offseason weight training had to be modified a bit to be able to compensate for his recovery efforts.

“The only thing we’ve had to really do is modify some of the lifts in the weight room that he can no longer do with his shoulder,” Young said.

After recovering from two injuries, Zikmund thought his troubles were over heading into his senior season this fall. However, the injury bug would strike again, this time due to a fractured thumb. A wide range of emotions and thoughts came over Zikmund after discovering the latest injury.

“First off, I was really upset and very scared that I wasn’t going to be able to play my senior year,” Zikmund said. “I hurt it in, I think, week two and I played through it for three weeks and then eventually I couldn’t move my thumb.”

After seeing a doctor and realizing he would be in a club-like cast the rest of the season, Zikmund became excited about returning to the field. Although it came with some setbacks.

“Then I got a little excited because, you know, it’s a club, it’s like a weapon. You can hit people, but after playing with it, it’s really hindered my performance just because I don’t have grip with my left hand anymore,” Zikmund said.

Aberdeen Roncalli’s Landon Zikmund, center, hits Webster’s Gavin Witt (2) as Witt tried to recover a fumble during a game earlier this season at Dacotah Bank Stadium. The Cavaliers recovered the ball on the play. Photo by John Davis taken 10/5/2023

Even though the injuries have hindered him in many ways, Zikmund has still been a leader for the Cavaliers.

“Before every practice, I get to break us down, and it’s usually a lot of high-pitched screaming, trying to get some energy up in the team,” Zikmund said. “In the defensive and offensive huddles before we run a play, I always make sure I tell the team ‘Energy, it’s about energy. Let’s keep the energy up.’ So, I really try and keep our morale high on our team.”

Young said the team has respect for Zikmund within the Roncalli football program.

“He’s just a well-respected guy within our locker room,” Young said. “I think guys respect his work ethic and they know what he’s done to make himself into the player that he is. They see him in the weight room and they’ve seen him through the years developing himself, and so, when he speaks, it carries a lot of weight, and the guys respond to that.”

Zikmund will look to keep the Cavaliers’ energy high tonight as the team travels to top-seeded Winner for a Class 11B quarterfinal matchup. Zikmund said a key part of the game will be the mental side during the contest.

“We recognize that they’re the one seed, but 100 percent think that 90 percent of the battle is just going to be mental and realizing that no matter what, it’s 11 hats vs 11 hats,” Zikmund said.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re the one seed and we’re the nine seed, we’re going to come in, we’re going to play physical.”

Young noted that Zikmund is a player that every team needs to have, while adding that he will be a player that will be a model for younger players in the future.

“I think you have to have guys like that; guys who other players can look to as an example,” Young said. “When he’s done playing, he’s going to leave a legacy behind (that) some of these younger players can aspire to be like. I think when his career is finally over, I think he’s somebody we’re going to be able to look back and point to and say hey, you need to try to be like that guy.”

Whenever his high school football is finished, whether tonight or in the next couple of weeks, Zikmund said he will cherish the friendships that have been built at Roncalli.

“Definitely the friendships that I’ve built, and honestly the family that I’ve built among the football team,” Zikmund said. “Between the season and the offseason, we spend countless hours together and it’s definitely something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life, just being able to be a part of this great program that we have at Roncalli.”

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