Durham a quick study in Patriot way

Photos by Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Senior Zach Durham (58) carried the American flag while leading the Heritage Hills football team onto the field prior to the Patriots’ win over Jasper on Sept. 11. Durham played his freshman year at Corydon Central before a family move brought him and his brother Trent to Heritage Hills, where the Patriots have welcomed the addition of the two linemen.


That November night in 2011 is still carved in the mind of Heritage Hills lineman Zach Durham.

The Patriots and Corydon Central facing off in the sectional title game. A 13-12 finish, hinging on one missed extra point by Corydon and two by Heritage Hills. Devastation for the Patriots, in the last game of legendary coach Bob Clayton’s career. Euphoria for Corydon in the program’s breakthrough.

Durham watched it all up close as an eighth-grader. “I was a ball boy,” recalls a smiling Zach, now a senior. Back then, though, the rooting interest was flipped. Familiarity and reverence for Heritage Hills existed, no doubt. But before the Durhams were Patriots, they were longtime Panthers. Zach’s father, Jeff, coached the offensive line at Corydon that year and was previously the program’s offensive coordinator for five years. Zach’s older brother, Jeffery, played wide receiver and free safety on that Corydon team that captured the school’s first sectional crown and followed it up with a regional title.

T. Durham

“For my older brother being a senior, that was a really big game for him, and watching that game growing up, it was kind of like, you never would have thought I ended up here playing against the team he beat,” Zach said. “But I did, and it’s worked out great.”

Almost two years later prior to Zach’s sophomore year, the Durhams relocated to Spencer County. It was Christmas in July for the Durhams, who moved in on Balthazar Drive in Santa Claus. Christmas in July for the Heritage Hills football program, too. As Patriot coach Todd Wilkerson knows, it’s a rare gift when two effective linemen fall into your lap — Zach, a two-way starter since his sophomore year, as well as Trent, who’s a year younger and subs in on both offense and defense. Capably stocked as the Class 3A No. 5 Patriots are entering Friday’s collision with fellow unbeaten and 3A No. 1 Gibson Southern, they still can’t quite envision what their complexion would be without Zach, their Panther-turned-Patriot.

“Thank God he moved here, because he’s been a huge help for us,” Patriot quarterback Caleb Mulzer said prior to the start of this season.

“Without those two guys, we’d be hurting on the line right now,” Wilkerson added. “We’re really happy they showed up.”

Zach and his family already possessed a feel for what the Patriots were about. His mother, Michelle (Glyn), is a Heritage Hills graduate. His cousin, Kraig Gogel, graduated from Heritage Hills in 2009 after a standout football career. In 2013, Michelle found a job opportunity in Tell City and a chance to move back home, and Jeff had flexibility in making a move as he runs Momentum Fundraising, focusing on high school football teams and nonprofits from southern Indiana through central Kentucky. (The little Patriot football discount cards that have popped up everywhere come from Jeff’s company.)

First impressions always resonate, and it was no different when Zach as a youngster came to watch his cousin play on a few occasions at Patriot Field. After those visits to Lincoln City, if you played the word association game with Zach, one thing stood out in particular at the mention of Heritage Hills.

“Smashmouth football,” Durham said. “It’s definitely a new level and a breed of football. Where I’m from, we played good, but you come up here, and they play fast and they play hard about every play. It’s different. You like the atmosphere. People care about what’s going on. It’s a lot more of a community thing, honestly. The community is way more involved. It’s  fun to be around.”

Heritage Hills seniors Zach Durham, right, and Lane Burns listened to coach Todd Wilkerson in the locker room prior to the Jasper game two weeks ago. Durham has started both ways for Heritage Hills for the last three seasons, and his 17 1⁄2 tackles this season rate first among Patriot linemen.

Change always seemed to be the routine for Zach, once a running back before high school and then a tight end his freshman year at Corydon. The move to Lincoln City prompted more adjustments: he started at right guard right away, and played defensive end from the outset before shifting further in on the line. A new program brought adjustments — zone blocking was more prevalent at Corydon; Heritage Hills tended toward more one-on-one blocking. Throughout the switch, there was one teammate in particular who Durham gravitated toward, as they were trekking similar paths.

“Peyton Nix,” Zach said, with zero hesitation. “We both started our sophomore year, started playing right next to each other on both sides of the (ball). Both the same age, just starting varsity right away. That’s a big deal for both of us. Both of us starting, it really helped me transition here, being able to play with him every Friday night. And Kenton (Crews), he’s obviously a friendly guy. Everyone gets along with him. He made it real easy.”

Jeff knew Zach and Trent both had to be harboring a degree of uncertainty at first. After all, the first Patriot practice they attended was the Strong Team Competition, an annual event that’s a chance for players to show off their offseason gains through everything from pushing trucks and buses to this year’s tough mudder and obstacle courses.

“They were a little intimidated initially, getting out of the car and seeing some guys walking around that were a little bit more physically imposing than they were,” Jeff said. “I remember after their Strong Team Competition, them both saying that ‘I couldn’t believe how nice everybody was to us when we came in.’ That was a good start.”

Zach’s consumption of football has also helped the assimilation, as “he watches probably more film than probably anybody I know,” Jeff said. “Proud of the fact he’s got a passion for the game, and I think any time you have a passion for the game, you’re going to find a spot in any program.”

Instincts help: “He does a nice job of being able to hear something one time and see it one time and then execute it,” Wilkerson added. “(Zach) is just one of those kids that has that underlying football knowledge, which really, in today’s world, is rare. I don’t think kids go out and play football as much as they used to. You can’t take many things for granted as a coach, you really do have to teach some basics that you didn’t think you had to teach.”

The Durham influence could last a while — after Trent, there’s Braydon, a fourth-grader, and Coleton, who’s just a year old. For Zach, there’s a chance everything could come full-circle with his former school. This year’s realignment placed Heritage Hills and Corydon Central in the same sectional once again. Durham’s still buddies with several Corydon guys, including the Panthers’ quarterback, Lannis Buck.  

“We were just talking about how we could possibly meet up in sectional and how it could be a really good game, and hopefully it’s in the championship,” Zach said. “But, we’ll see. We’ll see where it takes us.”

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