INDIANOLA, Iowa — As football teams play under the Friday night lights, one player’s legacy continues to live on after the final whistle.
On the field injuries led to Zac Easter ending his life, but his story is continuing to create change.
As Indianola prepares to take the field each Friday night, head football coach Eric Kluver can’t help but reflect how Zac forever changed how he approaches the game.
“He’s one of those players you’ll always remember,” Kluver said.
Number 44 Zac Easter was known as a tough tackler with a hard work ethic. The sport that gave the young Iowan so many rewards caused several risks down the road.
The hard hits led to concussions that caused Zac to struggle with severe symptoms from head injuries. In December of 2015, Zac took his own life but left directions for his family to donate his brain to science and share his story to help others. His words acting as instructions for the ones who loved him most.
“Zac bared his soul to the world,” his mom Brenda Easter said. “We bared our worst nightmare to the world. Not exactly the news you want to share, but probably the most powerful message we could ever send.”
After his death it was found that Zac suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. The discovery led his mom and longtime girlfriend Ali Epperson to co-found the non-profit CTE Hope, a foundation that raises awareness and funds, develops research, and supports others with similar stories.
“Hope is really the underlying aspect of what we’re doing,” Epperson said. “I’s what Zac didn’t have but wanted to give to everyone else and so that really is our driving force.”
A driving force that stems from Zac, from changing how his coach handles protocols and conducts practice.
“We do less physical activity, live contact quite a bit less than what we used to do years ago,” Kluver explains, “the way we tackle, the way we teach tackling has changed completely.”
To inspiring his doctor to create a concussion center.
“We treat individuals like Zac every day, all day,” Dr. Shawn Spooner, a physician with UnityPoint Clinic Sports Medicine and Concussion Center, said. “A team like ours is what they really need to help support them on their journey to recovery.”
Zac’s legacy is present, and his words continue to live on in a book written by Reid Forgrave, “Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy.”
“It sort of turns more from a story into more a social responsibility,” Forgrave said, “that this is a story that needs to get out there.”
The cautionary tale serves as a reminder for parents to be aware of the impacts that brain injuries can have, advice that the Easter family continues to share.
“If you ignore the symptoms and don’t pay attention, you won’t know really until a little later in life if they’ll be just like Zac,” Brenda Easter said, “and I don’t want that for anybody.”
While the book came out last year, the author will be in Iowa next week for in-person events. For details, click here.