It was only a couple years ago that Kaneland junior Zack Thielk was close to ground zero in the weight room.
“My freshman year, I could only bench like 95 pounds,” Thielk recalled. “... I didn’t get really strong until sophomore year, and then this year after I tore my ACL, my upper body just got really strong. I just worked on my upper body for most of the time until I could squat again.”
Thielk, a three-sport athlete from Sugar Grove, set an Illinois record for 16-17-year-olds last Saturday at the World Cup Bench Press and Dead Lift Championships in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. Thielk was credited with a 347-pound bench press, although he said he actually maxed out at 370 on his final attempt, but it did not count because he was shooting for 380.
Thielk is an offensive lineman in Kaneland’s football program as well as a heavyweight wrestler and track and field thrower. Thielk was the football team’s starting center until he suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the Knights’ Week 6 win against DeKalb.
With limited training options in the aftermath of his Nov. 1 ACL surgery, the 6-foot-1, 280-pound Thielk set his sights squarely on the weight room. His devotion paid off Saturday.
Thielk said he was one of only a handful of teenagers in the competition in Wisconsin Dells, which primarily consisted of grown men. Thielk said he wasn’t flustered by being so much younger than most of the competitors.
“I figured I’m just there, so I’ll try to do the best I can do,” Thielk said. “I didn’t [worry about the older lifters], and they were pretty nice. … They were helping me because they heard it was my first competition. They thought I was older than I was.”
Thielk called weightlifting “probably my favorite thing to do,” saying his older brother, Nick, and Kaneland senior offensive lineman Joe Komel – a Central Michigan recruit – helped inspire his passion for bulking up.
Although Thielk is king of the weight room at Kaneland these days, he said there are other members of the football program who can rival him if they adopt his work ethic.
“They need to show up more and show up consistently,” Thielk said. “I’ve never missed a day of lifting. I think that’s part of the reason I’ve gotten stronger. They have potential (to catch up), I’m not going to lie.”
Kaneland senior quarterback Drew David said it’s apparent Thielk is “pretty proud” of his record-setting lift, but said Thielk hasn’t been boasting too much.
“Ever since the first time I’ve seen him in the weight room, he’s a tank,” David said. “He was a junior this year and he was definitely one of our strongest guys we had on the team. He’s really impressive. I’m not surprised to hear any of that.”
Thielk missed the entire wrestling season while recovering from his ACL tear and hopes to be medically cleared in time for most of the outdoor track and field season.
He said he likely will participate in the same weightlifting competition in Wisconsin next year, and preliminary has set a 425-pound lift as his goal.
David zeroing in on college options: David, the Knights’ three-year starter at quarterback, remains uncertain of his college plans, but is holding out hope for a walk-on opportunity at a Division I, Football Championship Subdivision program.
David planned to visit Northern Iowa on Friday and said a visit to Illinois State next week also might materialize. He said he has nothing against going the D-II or D-III route – as many of his past and present teammates have – but he decided if he is going to play college football, he’d rather take a shot with a D-I program, even if it meant walking on.
“For me, I kind of wanted to try and do something different, kind of try and catch lighting in a bottle, I guess,” David said. “... You hear all kinds of crazy stories. It’s something I just wanted to kind of try.”