Zach Orr on leaving NFL behind at 24: “I can’t complain at all”


Linebacker Zach Orr was such a find for the Baltimore Ravens that, two seasons after signing as an undrafted free agent, he became a starter, led the Ravens in tackles and was named second-team All-Pro.

That’s the good news. The bad is that his NFL career is over.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2016 season, Orr was diagnosed with a rare spinal condition that forced him to retire from football at 24. That was nearly two months ago, and in the meantime Orr has had plenty of time to reflect on his decision.

And when he did, he told the Talk of Fame Network on its latest broadcast, he realized that walking away from the game was for all the right reasons — no regrets involved.

“I feel lucky that the neck condition was finally discovered,” he said. “I’ve been playing football since I was nine years old — and that’s 15 years — and I delivered a lot of big hits, and I’ve been hit a lot of times. For me to be able to walk away from the game in good health … knowing the ramifications that I had due to my spine condition … I’m just blessed.

I can’t complain at all. I got a chance to live one of my dreams out, and that’s something that nobody can take away from me.

“At any point of my career something bad could have happened. But God allowed me to play, not only high-school ball but college ball — and then made it to the highest level, the National Football League. And I got a chance not only to play for three years but start for a year and to play in about 50 games and start in 15 of them.

“I lived the dream that a lot of people wish they could live, and I was able to do that even though it was cut short, and I didn’t want it to end the way it did. But when I look back on it and reflect on it I can’t complain at all. I got a chance to live one of my dreams out, and that’s something that nobody can take away from me.”

Ironically, when Orr was a senior at Desoto (TX) High School, he witnessed a teammate suffering a serious injury that left him paralyzed — a memory Orr has no trouble recalling, especially now.

“It had a big impact,” he said of that incident, “not just only me but the whole community, the whole school. And just to see our brother — who goes out to play football each and every day on the football field and to see him not get up; to see him get carted away and then to see how it changed our lives and our football lives but, more importantly, for him and his family life — it really put things in perspective. I’m very fortunate that’s not me looking back at it now.”

Orr plans to stay connected to football, though he’s not sure in what capacity. He will, however, always cherish what he had as a player and said, more than anything, he’ll miss game days with his teammates.

“I don’t think anything is going to be there to replace walking out of the tunnel, walking out with your teammates in front of thousands of fans,” he said. “Just that shot of adrenaline that you get going out there knowing that all the work you put in during the week with your teammates … that’s just the ultimate level of competition.

“I don’t think anything in life can replace that competitiveness. That’s what I’m going to miss the most — the friendships and the camaraderie that you build. It’s actually a fraternity– the National Football League is — and you get to meet so many guys from different backgrounds and different stories. It’s just real neat and unique.”

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