Eagles soar on Senior Night in rout of Nixa

Joplin's Zach Westmoreland slips past the tackle of Nixa's KeShawn Murdie during their game on Friday at Junge Field in Joplin. Globe|Israel Perez

Joplin senior Zach Westmoreland wanted to wait until after the season to announce where he would be attending college to play football.

However, after spending the day with his teammates on the sidelines at Arrowhead Stadium for the Kansas City Chiefs game, Westmoreland felt it was the right time to make it official.

On Sunday, via Twitter, Westmoreland announced his commitment to playing football for Southern Illinois University.

“It was something I was waiting to announce,” Westmoreland said. “My parents told me to be patient and announce it when it was the right time. On the bus ride with my team, I was just thinking about all the things they have helped me with and everything we have been through together, and at that moment, it just hit me that Southern Illinois was the school for me.”

What was it about that particular moment that brought out Westmoreland’s decision? Simple, he was spending the day with his extended family.

Westmoreland and the Eagles were attending the game in Kansas City with Kaian Roberts-Day, a sophomore defensive end and running back, and his family. Kaian’s twin brother, sophomore offensive lineman Kadin Roberts-Day, passed away following an indoor practice in early September, leaving the team and the Joplin community heartbroken. The Chiefs brought the Roberts-Day family and the Eagles to Arrowhead Stadium in a way to celebrate the life of their fallen teammate, brother and son.

Spending that emotional time together with his football family made him realize why he was attracted to Division I Southern Illinois, a Missouri Valley Conference school, in the first place — the coaching staff and Saluki players made him feel like a member of their family from the moment they reached out to him.

“Family is really important to me,” Westmoreland said. “From Day One, the (SIU) coaching staff stayed on top of me about my grades and everything like that. They contacted me when they could to check in on me. My family really likes that school and what they are doing. They are a family-based school, and that meant a lot to me.

“I will still be able to see a lot of the people I grew up with, and they will be able to come and support me. That means a lot. It will also give me the chance to play against some of the kids I played with around here, so that will be good motivation, too.”

Westmoreland is coming off his biggest game of the season, and one of his best games in a Joplin uniform, after hauling in eight catches for 265 yards and four touchdowns in Joplin’s 68-16 win over Jefferson City in the district opener.

A four-year letterman and three-sport athlete, Westmoreland has 2,904 receiving yards and 35 touchdown receptions, to go along with 841 rushing yards and 24 rushing scores. Defensively, Westmoreland has 13-career interceptions, five of which went for touchdowns the other way, and has three punt returns for touchdowns in his career on special teams.

“I can't even explain what being a part of the Joplin football program has meant to me,” Westmoreland said. “It has been a crazy experience. The support I have gotten from this community is indescribable. The coaches and players who have helped me along the way have had such an impact on the person I have become, I can’t thank them enough.”

Westmoreland will take on a similar role at Southern Illinois, committing as an athlete. That means he will do anything asked of him by the Saluki coaches, whether that is playing on offense, defense or special teams.

“Whatever they need or want me to do, I am going to do it 100 percent,” Westmoreland said. “Especially at that level. Getting playing time is really hard to do, so my objective is to work as hard as I can.”

Recommended for you