Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, Chris Zorich graduated from Chicago Vocational High School in 1987 and received a football scholarship from legendary coach Lou Holtz and the University of Notre Dame.
Elected captain of the Fighting Irish football team his senior year, he won numerous collegiate awards, including consecutive consensus and unanimous All-American titles (1989 and 1990), United Press International’s Lineman of the Year (1989), Chevrolet’s College Defensive Player of the Year (1989), the Lombardi Award (1990), MVP of the Orange Bowl (1991), and a member of Walter Camp’s College Football All-Century Team (2000) as well as Sports Illustrated’s All-Time Notre Dame Team (2006). By his senior year, Zorich was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the meanest player in college football. He was also instrumental in helping Notre Dame win the national championship in 1988 and made history as part of Notre Dame football’s all-time 23-game winning streak. He was honored as a White House guest of former presidents Reagan and Bush in recognition of his athletic accomplishments. In 2007, Zorich was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as one of the best defensive linemen to have ever played the collegiate game. Not only was he one of the youngest players to ever be inducted, he was only the third defensive lineman from tradition-rich Notre Dame to call the College Football Hall of Fame home.
Following his 1991 graduation from Notre Dame with a bachelor of arts in American Studies, Zorich was drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears and legendary Hall of Fame coach Mike Ditka. As a starter, Zorich averaged more than 100 tackles per season, placing him among the league’s best defensive linemen. In 1996, while still playing for the Bears, Zorich enrolled at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Upon his release from the Bears, Zorich finished the 1997 season with the Washington Redskins. He then retired from the NFL to finish working towards his degree from the Notre Dame Law School, with the goal of furthering his ability to help those in need. While at Notre Dame Law School, he served clients at the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, a non-profit organization designed to provide free legal assistance to those with minimal resources.
In 2002, Zorich received his law degree and subsequently worked for the Chicago law firm of Schuyler Roche, P.C. for four years. While there, he worked in the Business Enterprise and Estate Management practice areas, helping clients start, grow and maintain their businesses, establish and increase real estate ownership and manage their assets through wealth planning. He also held the titles of community outreach and marketing consultant for the law firm.
In May 2008, Zorich returned to his alma mater as the athletic department’s manager for student welfare & development. In this position, he is responsible for directing the University’s million-dollar summer sports camps along with developing and implementing life skills programs for the University’s student-athletes who currently number more than 700. He also has assisted both the University and the athletic department with various development projects, while lending a hand in the area of recruiting for all of the University’s 26 different sports when needed. In addition, he has handled special projects for the senior staff of the athletic department and works with several of the University and the law school’s diversity committees.
What’s more, he currently serves as a member of the Black Coaches & Administrators Association (BCA). He also was instrumental in helping raise funds for the Lou Holtz statue located outside Notre Dame Stadium. Zorich is one of a handful of individuals on the selection committee for the Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation’s best college lineman.
Zorich’s college administration experience is extensive with two board memberships at Lewis University — an NCAA Division II school with over 5,400 students and a “Best Colleges” ranking by U.S. News and World Report (athletic and finance committees) and at the Illinois College of Optometry — the oldest optometry school in the country with over 130 externships worldwide (compensation and strategic planning committees).
In 2008, he was appointed to the prestigious Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics — an organization seeking to reform various issues including recruiting, gender equity and academic eligibility within the NCAA. Zorich is the only commissioner to currently hold a position in intercollegiate athletics. The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics facilitates discussions with leading professionals in law, education, athletics, politics and sports administration to find solutions plaguing intercollegiate athletics. Recent topics addressed by the Knight Commission include:
- Commercialism and College Sports
- Academic Integrity: Report on the NCAA Academic Performance Program and the recommendations to improve academic performance of basketball players
- NCAA Infractions: An examination of trends, recommendations to restructure penalties and challenges
- Commercialism in Sports and Athletes’ Rights in the 21st Century: How the new media landscape and fan interactivity is impacting traditional amateurism principles
- College Sports Finances: Efforts to Improve Accuracy of Financial Data reported by Division I Athletics Programs
- Intercollegiate Financial Plans: Report on the Financial Health of Divisions I Athletic Programs
Furthermore, Zorich has served as a board member for various non-profit organizations including the Big Shoulders Fund, Joffrey Ballet, Special Children’s Charities, and Urban Prep Academies. He also served on the administration and finance committees as a board member for the Chicago Public Library — one of the largest library systems in the country with 79 locations and an annual budget of more than $100 million.
Recognized for his fierce commitment on and off the playing field, Zorich has received scores of athletic and community service awards including the following: selection as an alternate for the 1993 NFL Pro Bowl, the 10th Anniversary “All-Madden Team,” two-time NFL Man of the Year Finalist, the NFL Players Association’s Byron “Whizzer” White Award for Community Service and USA Weekend’s “Most Caring Athlete.” Zorich also personally received both the Jesse Owens Foundation’s “Humanitarian Award” (from the family of the late Olympic great Jesse Owens), and Muhammad Ali’s limited commission “Humanitarian Award.”
Zorich also has received honorary degrees from East West University, Northwestern Business College, Saint Xavier University & Governors State University.
In 1993, The Christopher Zorich Foundation (www.chriszorich.org) was established to honor Zorich’s’ mother, who passed away his senior year at Notre Dame. The Foundation’s programs offered diverse community support — the Zora Zorich Scholarship (bestowed annually at Notre Dame), youth programs providing cultural, educational and entertainment activities, Thanksgiving grocery home deliveries to 1500 Chicagoans, women’s recognition on Mother’s Day through flower and cosmetics deliveries to various women’s shelters, and a holiday gift program providing gifts and matching sponsors with disadvantaged children and families. In its 16 years of service, these combined programs have assisted over 150,000 individuals. Zorich was the Foundation’s chairman from 1993 to 2008.
As a pioneer in his field, Zorich was the first student-athlete in the history of the University of Notre Dame to start a scholarship at his alma mater. Since this initial undertaking, the University has received several million dollars for scholarships from former student-athletes. In 1998, the Notre Dame athletics department commissioned The Christopher Zorich Award to recognize the contributions of student-athletes to the University community and the community at-large.
As a nationally-acclaimed motivational speaker, Zorich’s story is well documented. He has been profiled in various media: The Oprah Winfrey Show, NBC’s “EXTRA,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, USA Weekend, Highlights for Children, People, “Schwarzkopf’s America”/NBC Nightly News and Reader’s Digest.
For three years, Zorich co-hosted “Bears Extra,” a live weekly television show dedicated to the Chicago Bears. He was also a TV analyst for Comcast SportsNet’s Bears coverage. For two years, he hosted “PrepsPlus,” the Midwest’s highest-ranked high school sports television show. He also has moderated various town hall meetings on a variety of topics including race and gender issues, the influence of sports in our society and the influence of drugs on America’s youth.
His ability to inspire and motivate has earned sponsorship associations and speaking opportunities with multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, DirecTV, McDonald’s Corporation, Northern Trust Bank, Reebok International, State Farm Insurance, Tribune Company, United Airlines and UNITEDhealthcare.
Zorich is an avid reader with an extensive collection of over 2,500 books. He also was a 2006 graduate of Chopper College, which enabled him to build his own custom chopper motorcycle. Presently, Zorich lives in South Bend with his two Rottweilers, Caesar and Maximus.
Manager of Student Welfare & Development