OXFORD, MS (WSYR-TV) – Central Square’s Jillian Zakrzeski arrived at Ole Miss as a walk on the rifle team but in finding the Army ROTC program she was able to put a longtime goal into motion.
“I knew I wanted to be in the military somehow some way,” says Zakreski, a redshirt junior at Ole Miss. “But the FBI or any really federal agency is my end goal after I get out of the military.”
Jillian will be enlisted for a total of six years after graduation in the Mississippi National Guard. In the meantime, getting to that point will take hard work as she majors in criminal justice with an emphasis on law enforcement and has two minors in sociology and military science, but Jillian is finding a way.
“Juggling being athlete, a cadet and a student it’s not easy. You’re gonna get discouraged here and there, there’s resources here that help me with that but it’s not impossible,” said Zakrzeski. “It’s totally doable if you’re the right person for the fit.”
Through the rifle practices, the 28 matches she participated in and ROTC training during her redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons, Jillian has help making it work. Both her head coach, Marsha Beasley and her commanding officers have lent a helping hand.
“They know where I want to go with my path and they’re working with me to do that,” said Zakrzeski. “I just have wonderful people helping me and making sure I get what I need.”
It wasn’t until her senior year in Central Square that she decided to take the sport more seriously. She actively searched for schools with rifle programs and made sure she could meet any programs standards in competition and academically.
“My freshman, sophomore and junior year of high school I definitely would not have thought I would have been here with it,” said Zakrzeski.
Zakrzeski suits up for one of the best rifle coaches in the sport in Beasley who is an eight-time NCAA spending 17 years at West Virginia from 1989-2006.
“My coach saw something in me, like I knew she did or else she wouldn’t have kept me.” Zakrzeksi said of her coach keeping her among a deep freshman class. “I’ve learned a lot more about myself with shooting then I would’ve if I didn’t do that.”
The upcoming season of course is filled with uncertainty due to COVID-19. Last season began on October 13th but no start date has been set by the SEC even though an adjusted football schedule has been released. But Jillian is hopeful for what this season holds.
“Travelling, competing. Having fun with ROTC my fourth year. Helping the new cadets come in like two weeks,” said Zakrzeski. “Hopefully a lot of big opportunities that I’m not gonna miss out on like last semester.”
For now, she is back on campus participating in ROTC training through August 16th. Ole Miss is scheduled to begin in-person campus instruction on August 24th with adjusted capacity sizes for classes. Jillian, however, says she will be in online classes this upcoming semester.