Zach Pascal remembers being cut by Washington. Then cut by the Tennessee Titans. Then cut again by the Titans.
The last time he was cut was in June of 2018, a month and a half before training camp. Pascal was out of a job at the worst possible time. For a moment, gone was his chance to impress coaches in training camp and put things on tape in preseason games for 31 other teams to see.
That might feel like a lifetime ago to some players. But not to Pascal.
He remembers everything, even as he enters his fourth year with the Colts having built a career on dependability and durability first on special teams, and then as an important piece to Frank Reich's offense in Indianapolis.
"It's just my story of how I got to where I'm at right now," Pascal said. "I've had to grind, I've had to overcome obstacles and things people said I wouldn't do or wouldn't be capable of doing, I've had to fight around things."
The Colts claimed Pascal on waivers after the Titans released him in June of 2018. The former undrafted receiver, who was cut three times by two teams, got to work establishing himself as a reliable special teamer who could do the dirty work on offense — and make a few plays, too.
"Few people realize that Zach Pascal is on this roster because he made a name for himself on special teams," special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone said. "… His first year was pretty much exclusively in the kicking game and had more opportunities the next year.
"Now, it's how much can I use him?"
Ventrone would love to use Pascal as a four-phase special teamer. But as he carved out a role in Reich's offense, his special teams snaps declined from 191 in 2018 to 101 in 2019 to just 45 in 2020. That's a testament to the work Pascal's put in to make indispensable to the Colts' offense.
"Zach is a guy that does a lot of very important jobs for us and I don't want that to minimize his skillset," wide receivers coach Mike Groh said. "He's a very skillful player, he's got really good size, probably unique toughness for the position and willingness to do a lot of the jobs that are required of that position but a lot of guys don't like to do, they shy away from it. He doesn't shy away from anything.
"He's ultra competitive, a team-first guy, will do whatever it takes to help us win. But he's not just one of those roll your sleeves up, blue collar kind of guys — he's got a lot of skill and he's a very dependable route runner, can get himself open versus press, does some of the things that are unique to our offense extremely well."
Pascal is one of the best run-blocking wide receivers in the NFL, a critical role for a Colts team that features an impressive stable of running backs. But as Groh said, that hard-nosed willingness to run block shouldn't diminish what Pascal can do as a pass-catcher.
In both 2019 and 2020, Pascal had 40+ receptions while averaging 14 or more yards per catch. Only eight other receivers have hit those averages over the last two seasons (A.J. Brown, Mike Evans, Michael Gallup, Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, D.K. Metcalf, Darius Slayton and Mike Williams — so pretty impressive company).
Pascal had five touchdowns and 29 first downs in both 2019 and 2020, all while playing the most snaps of any Colts wide receiver, tight end or running back in 2019 (799) and 2020 (834).
"He's an all-around player, he does everything right," offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. "He's physical, he's tough, he's essentially the leader of the group. He sets the tempo, sets the toughness of that receiver group. He's been in the offense for so long so he knows the offense in and out, he knows every position.
"He's just reliable. You love that, especially as a coach and obviously as a quarterback you love it."
That emphasis on hard work and details, too, has made Pascal a leader alongside 10-year veteran T.Y. Hilton in the Colts' wide receiver room. Pascal "sets the tone," Brady said, because of everything he's been through to be the player he is today — and everything he's doing to be the player he hopes to become in the future.
So that's why Pascal scoffed at the idea that he feels established as he enters his fourth season with the Colts. He doesn't feel established.
And never will.
Because he remembers everything.
"I feel like that's a blessing for me," Pascal said. "I feel like I always have this chip on my shoulder to get better. Something could look good but I'm always trying to find a way that I can make that better."