Tanner Zimmerman embraces his role as an on-field leader for Grand Valley High School's football team as much as he embraces his role as the Cardinals' spiritual leader.
He leads his team in prayer before and after games and practices, doing it on an as-needed basis during practices. Every once in a while, a teammate will come to Zimmerman for something other than football.
Zimmerman embraces every chance he gets to do that, as it's a role that was passed down to him from previous team captains who filled an identical role.
"I want to be a leader for my team, and not just on the field, but spiritually," Zimmerman said. "I think that's important to have, and anybody's welcome to it."
For all that Zimmerman does to help enhance the Cardinals' spiritual faith, his on-field play has helped raise Grand Valley to a higher level. The senior running back had 272 rushing yards and four touchdown runs in the Cardinals' 41-20 Class 2A Western Slope League victory against Basalt on Oct. 12.
What's more, 194 yards and those same four TD jaunts came in the second half, helping Grand Valley (6-1 overall, 4-1 league play) rally from a 13-12 third-quarter deficit.
Zimmerman's big game came in part due to the absence of Jacob White, who sat out with an ankle injury after tallying 485 rushing yards in Grand Valley's first six games. And although Zimmerman missed the Cardinals' Aug. 31 game at Meeker, his performance against the Longhorns gave him 1,074 yards and 11 TD runs for the season.
He leads the league in rushing and is ranked fifth in Class 2A in rushing yardage, and he'll try to expand on that when Grand Valley plays at Aspen at 7 p.m. Friday in a critical league game.
When this past Friday's game was finished and the Cardinals had huddled in the end zone at Toby LeBorgne Stadium following the victory, Zimmerman had the final word by leading the Cardinals in a team prayer. That combination of on- and off-field leadership from Zimmerman has become a vital element in Grand Valley's success, said coach Mike Johnson.
"When you have good leadership from individuals on your team, it makes your team accountable to its peers, not just its coaches," Johnson said. "It's developed a bit of a brotherhood where the guys are out there working for each other."
Granted, Zimmerman doesn't sing hymns on the field or kneel after every touchdown like former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. He even jokes that he "doesn't have quite the media message board that [Tebow] does."
He does, however, keep his faith in mind whenever he's on the field.
"Anything I get and any success I have, I believe I owe that to Jesus," Zimmerman said. "Wanting to follow him has developed morals in me that include working hard on the football field.
"When I'm facing something hard or some kind of adversity, I always think of Phillipians 4:13: 'I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me,'" Zimmerman said. "I've shared that with teammates before. For me, football is a great platform to help show people the love I've experienced through my relationship with God."
With that belief and philosophy coming while playing in a sport as violent as football, Zimmerman feels Grand Valley's focus should shift toward the Cardinals' overall "team" concept. In his mind it's worked, and it's a concept that's caught on with many of his teammates.
And the overall hope, Zimmerman said, is that Grand Valley's belief and success will carry on well into November.
"You have to believe in something bigger then yourself, and that's always been the name on the front of the jersey," Zimmerman said. "But that thing that's bigger than ourselves, we like to think that's God. We want to play for him, this town, this school and this community because before each game, I'll pray and say, 'Give us strength, and don't let us forget who we're playing for.'"