West’s Christensen no stranger to adversity, or overcoming it

Morristown West’s Zach Christensen (39) defends Cocke County’s Jesse Sauceman (16) during Friday’s IMAC jamboree at Burke-Toney Stadium.

When adversity strikes, don’t expect Zach Christensen to back down.

No matter if Morristown West’s secondary gets burned for a big gain or if he pulls down an interception — which he’s done twice this preseason — Christensen knows his response is far more critical than any challenge he faces.

For instance, South-Doyle had its way with the Trojans’ defense for much of the first half in an Aug. 2 scrimmage, but Christensen wasn’t going to back down even with South-Doyle inside the 10-yard line threatening to build on its lead.

Instead, the senior cornerback sat back on his man and stepped in front of the intended receiver at the goal line and took off toward the opposite end zone. After cutting inside from the right hash mark, Christensen outraced the Cherokees 100 yards for West’s first score of the scrimmage.

Had it been an actual game, Christensen would have tied the West High school record for longest interception return, as Andre Olden returned a pick 100 yards against David Crockett in 1997.

“Just doing my job,” Christensen said. “It’s just a great coaching staff and Coach (Alvin) Sanders always puts belief into me every day. All credit goes to Coach Sanders for helping me through everything.”

Christensen intercepted another pass one week later at Grace Christian Academy. After penetrating West territory, the Rams fired across the middle for the end zone.

But Christensen read the pass and timed his leap perfectly to prevent the touchdown by grabbing the interception at the 1-yard line.

“I knew the guy was taller than me and he was going to outplay me, so I had to get out in front to have a chance, and I stepped in front, jumped up and made the play,” Christensen recalled.

Indeed he did.

With West’s lone two interceptions of the preseason, Christensen has also been involved in 6 tackles after returning 13 kickoffs for 106 yards as a junior in 2018.

Tasked with earning a starting spot in the Trojans’ defensive backfield, Christensen once again rose to the challenge just as his head coach had come to expect.

“He’s just a kid that refuses to give up. There’s no quit in him. He’s all about competing,” West coach Dr. Alvin Sanders said. “When you’re playing defensive back, good things are going to happen and bad things are going to happen, but you have to respond each time. That’s what Zach brings to our unit.”

And the ability to overcome obstacles is certainly an enviable trait to possess.

Christensen knows from experience how critical it is to rebound, as he faced adversity at just 10 years old when a family situation caused him and his sister to move in with their grandparents.

But it also presented Christensen with the opportunity to make the best out of a difficult situation. He ultimately chose to persevere, and that same perseverance has been on display for West throughout the 2019 preseason.

“My grandparents took me in when they didn’t have to and put a roof over my head and over my sister’s head,” Christensen said. “They’ve been a blessing to me through my whole life. I’m very grateful for that.”

Christensen, who primarily plays at defender for West’s soccer team in the spring, admitted football is “definitely” tougher from a physical standpoint. But the senior cornerback credits the conditioning required for both sports for his toughness and stamina on both the gridiron and the pitch.

While he might still be learning and adjusting to his new role as the Trojans’ starting cornerback, Christensen’s leadership whether the breaks are going for or against West is definitely not in question.

“He’s a competitor and I expect him to be a leader right there in the secondary, just bringing that toughness that he has to that group,” Sanders said. “The thing we emphasize is get better at one thing each day and carry that on and be a mentor to the young guys, so each day Zach is coming out and competing. I can’t ask for a better leader.”