As he was exploring colleges in high school, Cordell Zalenski didn’t plan on becoming a student athlete for Harding University, but once he stepped foot on campus, saw the football facilities and participated in his first practice with the team, he knew he belonged here.
Throughout high school, Zalenski planned to stay in his home state of Oklahoma and walk on to play football at a state school. With encouragement from his mother, Zalenski decided to consider Harding as a choice.
After seeing the updated football weight room online, Zalenski said he was intrigued and decided to make the trip to learn more about the University, meet the football coaches (Coach Huckeba and Coach Simmons at the time) and tour the campus. Zalenski said his trip to campus solidified his decision to attend Harding. He only planned to stay for a couple years before transferring to another school, but after the first practice, he changed his mind again. Zalenski spent the next four years as a defensive lineman with the Bisons and graduated from Harding.
Zalenski initially came to Harding planning to pursue engineering but quickly realized he was more interested in a business degree. He changed his major to business administration then, later, to accounting.
Shortly after the second switch, Dr. Phil Brown, chair of accounting and finance, invited Zalenski — as a top accounting student — to tour the Walmart headquarters. Zalenski said the Walmart headquarters reminded him of Harding and the good feelings he got from his first visit to campus. That experience influenced him to pursue a career at Walmart.
After graduating from Harding, Zalenski was able to secure a job with Walmart and now works in finance with the corporation. Now, four years after graduating, Zalenski said he is grateful to be able to give back to the school and programs that led him to where he is today.
“I know for a fact if it wasn’t for Harding football I wouldn’t be in this position — physically in Northwest Arkansas, monetarily to be in the position where I am because I’m working with Walmart, and then just spiritually as well,” Zalenski said.
Zalenski said because the updated weight room facility was the first thing that drew him to Harding, it was important to give back to the program that changed the direction of his life. When he heard about the plans to build the Huckeba Field House, Zalenski said he knew it would bring students like him to Harding — those who would not give Harding a thought if not for the new facility.
Zalenski said this recruitment aspect was important to him because of the many football players he saw come to know Christ during his time at Harding. He said he hoped his donations to Harding and support of the football program would help other players discover the program and the brotherhood that exists within it.
“Of course I’m going to give back, not only because of the brotherhood and what it means to me, but it can really change someone’s life who might not have come to know Christ or might not have had that opportunity to get to know and have these type of relationships if they didn’t make it to Harding,” Zalenski said.
To learn more about Harding football, visit hardingsports.com.