FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — The metal dogtag hangs around Zach Sudfeld's neck nearly everywhere he goes.
It dangles under his pads when he's on the football field, and he takes it off only when he showers. It was a gift from his grandfather, and the Winston Churchill-inspired quote engraved on it epitomizes his journey from hard-luck youngster to tenacious New York Jets tight end:
"Never, never, never give up."
Sudfeld could have easily walked away from football a few times. Many people told him he should have.
A broken leg and dislocated ankle in his senior season at Nevada appeared to abruptly end a college career marked by setbacks and six surgeries. He had nothing more to prove, they told him, and he'd been through enough adversity.
"I'm a football player," the 24-year-old Sudfeld said, his long, reddish-brown hair pulled back neatly behind his head. "I couldn't let it end that way."
And, he didn't. Not even close.
Sudfeld — nicknamed "Studfeld" by friends and teammates — is a 6-foot-7, 260-pound backup tight end who has played in eight games as a rookie, including two starts, with four catches while carving roles on the scout team and special teams.
"The sky's the limit for him because each day he gains more confidence," Jets tight ends coach Steve Hagen said. "He makes like freak catches in practice."
As his blocking improves, Sudfeld's playing time figures to increase. He gets about 10 snaps a game, but he's used to having to prove himself.
"We loved watching 'Rudy' growing up, but Zach's no Rudy," said Sudfeld's father Ralph. "He has demonstrated he belongs here. Nothing was handed to him. Nothing. He just kept saying, 'Nope, I'm just going to keep going.'"
That perseverance was born in part from being raised in a family whose business is delivering hope.
The Sudfelds are heavily involved with Assist International, a humanitarian organization started by Sudfeld's grandparents Bob and Charlene Pagett in a spare bedroom in 1990 that has since completed over 500 projects to help the needy in 61 countries.
Ralph Sudfeld is the executive vice president. Zach's mother, Michelle, is the director of fundraising for abandoned and orphaned children. Zach's twin brother, Matt, is the director of strategic development. When each of his grandchildren turned 13, Bob Pagett let them pick a project on which they could accompany him.
Zach chose a trip to Romania, where an experience at an orphanage still resonates.
"You go to the streets where these kids came from and it's just devastating," he said. "You can't get those images out of your head. It's an amazing thing when you hold an orphan in your arms. You're like, 'Man, I have no issues.'"
Sudfeld has since been to Myanmar and Thailand, and plans to go to Africa during the offseason. He'll join the rest of the family full-time in the business someday, but after his playing days are through.
Sudfeld was born 10 minutes before Matt. He spent most of his childhood and teen years in Modesto, Calif., trying to catch up to him on the football field, basketball court or pretty much anything that provided even the smallest measure of competition.
"Growing up, whenever we'd get into a fight, I was just a lot tougher than him, even though he was taller," Matt said with a laugh.
They're fraternal, and their drastic height difference — Matt is 5-foot-11 — makes it difficult to imagine they're brothers, let alone twins.
"We're as close as you can be," said Zach, whose younger brother Nate plays quarterback at Indiana. "But growing up, he was way more athletic."
The family has a theory on the moment Zach went from being a tall, skinny, awkward guy to one of the toughest players on the football field. It was the day during the twins' sophomore season in high school that Zach was moved up to varsity from junior varsity to fill in for some injured tight ends.