Around the Region

Long road to the postseason over for Hardin-Simmons

Korey Zavala has a nose for the quarterback, whether it's against Wayland Baptist or Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Hardin-Simmons athletics photo

Korey Zavala has waited his entire career to play in the postseason and the senior defensive lineman at Hardin-Simmons can’t say enough about what it means to finally have the opportunity to be in the playoffs.

“It’s an awesome feeling. This is what myself and the other seniors in our class have been working hard for since day one,” Zavala said.

Zavala has put in his share of hard work to play an instrumental role in the success of the Cowboys, who wrapped up the regular season with a 9-1 record and share of the American Southwest Conference championship.

Ranking second in tackles (69) and sacks (6.5), Zavala is part of a ferocious defense that hasn’t given up more than 27 points in a game all year.

Four times, the Cowboys have held their opponent to single digits. They gave up 26 to Saturday’s playoff opponent, Mary Hardin-Baylor, in a game on Halloween, which was the fewest points UMHB scored all season, by more than two touchdowns. The Cowboys won that showdown by a 29-26 score.

“We play together so well as a defense,” Zavala said. “There are no selfish players. We feel good about the way things have gone up to this point.”

What is interesting about Zavala is that he didn’t come to Hardin-Simmons as a defensive player, although he did play both ways in high school.

“I recruited him as an offensive lineman and was going to have him play left tackle,” Cowboys head coach Jesse Burleson said. “But as I watched him run in practice, I was impressed with his speed. I knew he had great athletic ability and decided to move him to defense.”

It turned out to be a wise decision, a decision Zavala had no problem going along with.

“I played on both sides of the ball in high school but I always favored defense more,” Zavala said. “I was happy with it the moment I switched.”

Zavala played nine games as a freshman and made 21 tackles. A year later, he earned second-team All-ASC honors after leading the team in tackles for a loss with 14. Last season, he tallied 45 tackles en route to being named a second-team all-conference selection.

“Korey is a dynamic football player and has a great football IQ,” Burleson said. “The thing about him is that his motor never stops. All great defensive players have it.”

The Cowboys are facing the Crusaders in the postseason for the fourth time, the last meeting coming in 2008. It’s also the last time Hardin-Simmons made it to the playoffs.

But while they are familiar with each other -- this will be the 22nd meeting...

Read the rest of this column


Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for and wrote Around the Great Lakes for from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen


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