The best way to describe sophomore midfielder Zackary Franckowiak would be as a jack of all trades.
He has accomplished a lot on the lacrosse field. As a short-stick defensive midfielder, he plays an important role in disrupting opposing offenses. He currently has 15 ground balls through nine games and is poised to play a key role for the Rutgers men's lacrosse team as it gets set to begin conference play this weekend.
But what makes him unique is the fact that he didn’t play at all in either of the last two seasons. In fact, he wasn’t even in the country. Franckowiak is returning from a two-year sabbatical in which he served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Franckowiak arrived in the highly-rated 2016 recruiting class, which was headlined by key contributors like junior attack Kieran Mullins. He had a stellar freshman season, playing every game and posting 34 ground balls, earning All-Big Ten Tournament honors at the end of the season.
But his promising college lacrosse career was put on hold when the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream arose for Franckowiak: To serve for two years on a Mormon missionary trip abroad.
“This was something that I wanted to do since I was a kid,” Franckowiak said. “I sent in my papers at the end of freshman year and I received a mission call that said where I would be going.”
Leaving the team for two years wasn’t easy for Franckowiak, but he had the full support of the coaching staff and his teammates.
“I actually talked to (head) coach (Brian) Brecht about this before I committed, and he suggested that I play my freshman year before I go abroad,” Franckowiak said. “He was very supportive of this decision, which was a huge part of why I decided to commit to Rutgers.”
Once he arrived in Russia, Franckowiak had to deal with the challenge of adapting to a foreign culture halfway across the world from his home state of Utah. A specific challenge was the Russian language, which he spent the first year of the trip studying every day.
“Even when I couldn’t communicate verbally, being able to help serve someone in need was a great way for me to show that I was there for them,” he said.
A typical day for Franckowiak would begin with studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon. After that, he would spend the rest of his day performing community service activities throughout the city of St. Petersburg, in particular with the Red Cross and at the State Hermitage Museum.
Franckowiak acknowledged that the two year trip was a challenge, but it gave him an invaluable lesson about the importance of serving the community.
“This was an important time of my life, and one of the biggest things I learned was how much I enjoy helping other people,” he said.
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