By UCM Athletics, December 15, 2023
For the second time in University of Central Missouri football history, the Mules have the top player in NCAA Division II as quarterback Zach Zebrowski has won the 2023 Harlon Hill Trophy for the NCAA Division II Football Player of the Year, the Great American Conference and Little Rock Touchdown Club announced Friday, December 15. Along with the NCAA's formal recognition of Zebrowski, his achievement was publicly celebrated in Warrensburg with an event hosted by UCM Athletics and the UCM Alumni Foundation, and involving other university employees, Mules fans and supporters.
"With this award, UCM becomes one of eight schools in the history of Division II football that hold multiple Harlon Hill award winners," said Dr. Matt Howdeshell, vice president of Intercollegiate Athetics at UCM. He kicked off the celebration event at Fitters Restaurant and Pub in Warrensburg.
Zebrowski, a redshirt junior from Woodbury, Minn., joins former UCM All-American quarterback Eric Czerniewski as a Harlon Hill winner. Czerniewski won the honor in 2010.
"This is pretty incredible. What I think is most impressive is Zach. Even though this award is about on-field performance, Zach is more impressive off the field," Howdeschell said, commending the example Zebrowski sets for aspiring young football players.
A 2023 AFCA and Associated Press Division II First Team All-American, Zebrowski had a record-breaking season as he helped lead the Mules to an overall record of 11-2 and a MIAA Conference Championship with a conference mark of 9-1. The 11 wins tied for most in program history while the conference title was the 14th in UCM history. Central Missouri advanced to the second round of the NCAA-II Playoffs, marking the fifth playoff appearance in program history.
Zebrowski, the Ron Lenz D2CCA Offensive Player of the Year, set new NCAA Division II records for passing touchdowns (61), total offensive yards (5,690), points responsible for (380) and TDs responsible for (63 - 61 pass, two rush) in UCM's 13 games this season. He also established new UCM and MIAA records for passing touchdowns (8), passing yards (615 yards) and total offense (673 yards) in a single-game in the Mules' 77-27 win over then No. 23-ranked Emporia State Oct. 21.
Zebrowski became the first NCAA Division II quarterback - and just the sixth in all of college football - to throw for at least 60 touchdowns in a season with his 61 TD passes.
During the 2023 season, Zebrowski led all of NCAA Division II in total offense (437.7 yards per game), passing yards (5,157 yards), passing touchdowns (61), points responsible for (380), points responsible for per game (29.2 points per game) and passing yards per game (396.7 yards per game). He was second in completions per game (32 per game) and passing efficiency (173.0).
Zebrowski was also named the 2023 MIAA Offensive Player of the Year and the 2023 D2CCA Super Region III Offensive Player of the Year. He earned First Team All-MIAA, D2CCA Super Region III and D2CCA All-American accolades.
The sports information directors at the 161 NCAA Division II football-playing institutions nominate and vote on the Harlon Hill Award. The 38 initial candidates were placed on regional ballots with the top two players from each of the four NCAA regions advancing to the national ballot when voting concluded Monday, Nov. 27. A tie in Super Region III resulted in three finalists coming from that region.
The winner was determined by a nationwide vote of NCAA Division II school and conference SID's. The national voting process occurred Nov. 29 through Dec. 8.
During the reception in downtown Warrensburg, Mules Head Coach Josh Lamberson spoke about Zebrowski, noting that while he didn't start his first game of the season, his presence when he entered that contest became a difference maker that not only changed the outcome of that game, but changed the team's trajectory for the rest of the season.
"Once he entered the game, our entire team was different. There was different energy,
a different pace, and there was a different sense of fun with Zach Zebrowski," Lamberson
He praised his award-winning quarterback's ability to impact other players, and the camaradarie that he has created among his teammates.
"He makes people around him better," Lamberson stated.
Asked what the Harlon Hill Trophy means to him and what contributed to his recognition, Zebrowski simply noted, "I think it will take a little while to set in. Looking back on it, I think it is really just the culmination of seeing a lot of hard work pay off."
Considering the impressive statistics the Mules and their quarterback accumulated
over the past season, the team may continue to wreak havoc on other teams trying to
beat them next season...at least Zebrowski is keeping his hopes alive. He believes
he and his teammates can build on a season in which they only lost two games, each
by only one point, including a playoff game.
"I've been talking to recruits, and I'm telling them why I'm comng back, and that is to win the national championship. I don't think you should be afraid to say that if you believe it," he said.
Zebrowski will be honored and presented the Harlon Hill Trophy at the Little Rock Touchdown Club Awards Banquet Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, in Little Rock, Ark.
The Harlon Hill Trophy is named for the late Harlon Hill - the former University of North Alabama (UNA) standout - who excelled with the Lions from 1950-53 before going on to fame in the National Football League with the Chicago Bears.