Zach Granger a mental health advocate with a leader mentality

Zach+Granger+is+a+redshirt+junior+defender+on+the+Marquette+mens+lacrosse+team.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Marquette+Athletics.%29

Zach Granger is a redshirt junior defender on the Marquette men’s lacrosse team. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Follow the leader: The well-known childhood game that Zach Granger took quite literally.

“It was kind of like I joined (lacrosse) by default because my brother did. It was that older sibling, younger sibling dynamic where you kind of just follow him wherever he goes,” Granger said.

That is, until the redshirt junior became a leader himself.

Granger grew up in Media, Pennsylvania, and began playing lacrosse in the third grade. He said he never imagined the sport would take him to the Midwest and Milwaukee.

“Coach Stimmel actually showed me around when I toured, he was an assistant coach at the time. I honestly didn’t want to come to Marquette at first,” Granger said. “I think coach could tell ’cause that day when he was showing me around, I wasn’t exactly the most outgoing person. My body language that day proved how much I didn’t want to be here (Marquette).”

Stimmel, now the head coach, said he and Granger often look back at their first encounter and laugh.

“I don’t think he (Granger) said more than five words on that recruiting visit which was honestly funny,” Stimmel said. “It became a joke between us, it’s really cool that we have the relationship we do now.”

Despite Granger’s early defiance, life has a funny way of working itself out and when Granger’s original lacrosse commitment to a different school fell through, fate took hold.

“If you were to ask me in high school if I would end up at Marquette, I probably would have said no, but I’m very grateful to be here. I got a phone call one day from my brother and he said “hey, you want to be teammates?” I thought, why not? Let’s do it again,” Granger said.

Ryan was a redshirt first-year, then the eldest Granger served as an undergraduate assistant coach for the team.

“I got an opportunity to follow my brother again, which I think is a common theme in my life. He’s a very important person to me. And I know it (playing for Marquette) made my mom and dad happy too,” Zach said

It was at Marquette that Granger learned to embrace his natural gift as a leader, both on and off the field.

Marquette’s SHAPE (Student Health Allies and Peer Educators), a student program in correlation with the Marquette Athletics Department, is designed to assist athletes and break down the stigma against mental illness.

Granger has been a peer leader in SHAPE since his first year at Marquette.

“There’s a stigma around mental health, especially with within athletics, specifically for men,” Granger said. “The group (SHAPE) is just peers. I think it’s very intimidating to go to a coach about mental health, but it might be easier to go to a teammate or someone outside your team that might be going through the same thing.”

SHAPE may be athlete-focused, but Jenkins said its impact reaches the entire campus.

“Student organizations (SHAPE) have reached students in a way that we at the Counseling Center would never have been able to do on our own,” Nicholas Jenkins, a Marquette counselor and Coordinator of Mental Health Advocacy, said in an email.

Jenkins said that one of the best ways to reduce mental health stigma is by actually knowing someone who experiences mental health concerns.

“This allows us to see beyond the label and recognize that it is a person just like us who also experiences mental health concerns,” Jenkins said in an email.

Stimmel said with Granger being a leader in SHAPE, it has allowed him to bring his advocacy and a wealth of knowledge back to the field.

“When you see someone like Zach, who has come out of their shell and taken on a leadership role in our team, plus the work he’s done through SHAPE, it’s just incredible,” Stimmel said. “It’s a coach’s dream to see that transformation and really see people become the best version of themselves.”

On the academic side, Granger said he has found a way to relate his history major studies to his everyday life.

“The people in history books, they’ve done things that we’re going through right now. Most of the time someone has already done what we’re doing and I think that plays into my role as a peer leader too,” Granger said. “I’ve been around the block. It’s my fifth year. I’m an old guy now, so there really isn’t much I haven’t experienced here. So that that gives me a wealth of knowledge that I can get back to guys on the team or guys outside the team.”

Granger, having found his own path to follow at Marquette, said he encourages his teammates to do the same.

“One of the best things that I ever did here (Marquette) was join SHAPE. It gave me something outside of the lacrosse to go to. My identity was really wrapped up in lacrosse and having another thing to go to has really made college a better experience,” Granger said. We only have so much time (at Marquette), so effectively use it.”

Luckily for Granger, time isn’t ticking down quite yet. The seasoned player is expected to take advantage of all his opportunities, even playing a sixth year for Marquette lacrosse.

“He’s become a huge example of somebody that takes every failure as an opportunity for growth,” Stimmel said. “Zach has a humble servant’s heart in terms of how he approaches life and how he approaches like being a leader on our team.”

This story was written by Ava Mares. She can be reached at ava.mares@marquette.edu or on Twitter @avamaresMU.