As he intently watched last week's NFL Draft, Zach Buckey hoped he was getting a glimpse of his future.
A soon-to-be senior defensive lineman at Garces, Zach set his sights on the NFL at a young age, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his father Jeff Buckey, a former All-American at Bakersfield High who played four years as an offensive lineman with the Dolphins and 49ers.
And after seeing two local stars he grew up watching reach the top of the football world, Buckey's ambitions have only expanded.
Zach cheered when fellow Bakersfield native and former Liberty quarterback Jordan Love was selected with the 26th pick of the first round by the Green Bay Packers last Thursday. His excitement only grew two days later, when Love's high school teammate Krys Barnes signed a free agent contract to join him in Green Bay.
“I can remember watching Jordan Love and Krys Barnes on that 2015 Liberty team," Buckey said. "These guys put in the work and they’re going to live out their dreams now and I want to do the same thing. Watching the draft was so motivating, seeing cameras in a house in Bakersfield with people I knew in the room... it really meant a lot to me.”
Recently, opportunities to prove his potential value at the NFL level have started to come for Buckey. Rated a three-star prospect by 247Sports, he's become highly sought after on the recruiting trail, receiving 21 Division-I offers since February.
Feeling things got off to a slow start, Buckey, who had a team-high seven sacks for the Rams in 2019, says it's been wild to see the recruiting process take a near 180-degree turn.
"It's gone from me not being able to get a call back from this coach to this coach wants me to come visit his school," he said. "It's really crazy."
While the offers — which have come from the likes of FBS schools such as Colorado State, Nevada and Love's old stomping ground of Utah State — are impressive from the football side, Buckey is also turning head with admissions officers at some of the country's top schools.
Interest in Buckey, who carries a 4.5 grade point average, was initially spiked by the Ivy Leagues, when Dartmouth extended his first D-I offer on Feb. 5. Since then, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn and Columbia have all followed suit.
Competing at an elite academic institution wouldn't be anything new for the Buckeys, as Jeff spent his college career at Stanford. But even with that impressive bloodline, Zach says it's still flattering being courted by such top-flight institutions.
"The fact that I have an opportunity to go get a degree from somewhere like Harvard or Yale just blows me away," he said.
"The secret to success is hard work and I don't think people understand how hard it is to receive offers like that," Garces coach Paul Golla added. "A kid that works that hard in the classroom, in the weight room and everywhere else, it's certainly paid off for him."
His recruitment has offered a needed sense of relief for Buckey, who is also a thrower on a Ram track and field team that had its season canceled by COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus has also prevented in-person visits to interested schools, a problem for Buckey, who insists "I'm not going to commit anywhere I've not visited."
Luckily, a solid understanding of what he hopes to achieve academically should make it easier to narrow down the field. Expressing an interest in being a lawyer, Buckey plans to study political science or national diplomacy, and says he won't enroll at a school that doesn't offer his desired major.
Before that, he has big goals for his senior season at Garces, where he and fellow D-I recruit J.J. Uphold are likely to give the Rams one of the most fearsome pass rushes in the area.
And as more offers continue to come in, Buckey hopes fulfilling his dream of playing on Saturdays will help prepare him for the ultimate goal of playing on Sundays.
"What I've been dreaming of since I was a little kid is being recruited by colleges," he said. "It's crazy but it's definitely the payoff of hard work."