Zakelj, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Gabelli School of Business in 2021, learned in October of his senior year that, due to the COVID-shortened football season, the NCAA would grant him and all other student-athletes an extra year of eligibility. This meant that Zakejl had the chance to play five seasons, instead of four—something that wasn’t initially part of his plan.
“I’ll be able to play for another year—while pursuing a master’s degree in the business school after graduating in May,” he told Fordham Magazine in fall 2020. “That’s something that I wouldn’t have been able to do, so I try to take it as a blessing in disguise, really. And my goal of getting drafted into the NFL is the same; it’s just pushed back.”
In addition to achieving his big postgrad goal, Zakelj will earn a master’s degree in business analytics from the Gabelli School this month. A four-year starter for the football team, he served as a 2021 team captain and helped the Fordham Rams’ passing offense finish 11th in the NCAA FCS division last season. He also became one of only 24 players in Patriot League history to earn All-League honors for all four years.
Joe Conlin, Fordham’s head football coach, told The Athletic that Zakelj’s football intelligence and approach to the game reminded him of current 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
“[Zakelj’s] one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around,” Conlin said. “Nick and Kyle are very similar in how they approach practice and how they think about the game. Those guys just absorb it. It’s very important to them. He’ll take care of his body. He’ll be a great asset.”
Zakelj played offensive tackle in college, but NFL scouts have said he could move inside to play guard. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein noted in his draft analysis of Zakelj that he “plays with athletic hands and feet in pass protection,” and is “agile and fluid in redirecting his weight and mirroring rushers.”
He joins former Fordham running back Chase Edmonds, FCRH ’18, in the NFL. Edmonds was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2018 draft and, after four seasons with the Cardinals, signed with the Miami Dolphins this offseason.