LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University student Matthew Zajac was chosen to win a $2,000 prize at Saturday’s football game, part of the university’s incentives to increase student attendance at the games.
But the Iraq war veteran and double-amputee was caring for his 87-year-old grandmother after the recent death of his father. Because he wasn’t at the game, he won’t receive the prize.
“It’d be nice to win the money, but my priorities were elsewhere,” Zajac said. “It doesn’t get to me.”
The 26-year-old mechanical engineering student lost both his legs in May 2007 after his Humvee was hit by
an improvised explosive device.
He is his grandmother’s only family in the area.
Taking care of her is his first priority he said, noting it would be nice to have time to go to a game. He has returned to school after taking a break last fall while his father was in the hospital.
“He cooks for me, he shops for me and he takes me to the doctor,” grandma Marjorie Seedorf said. “Of course I appreciate everything he does.”
On Saturday, Zajac said his girlfriend’s co-worker texted them, letting him know his name had been drawn for the grand prize.
He’s not looking for sympathy, he said, noting it’s a good day when he “didn’t get blown up.”
“These things happen,” he said. “I’m not overly upset about it.”
NMSU is considering ways to recognize Zajac and his service to the country, deputy athletic director David McCollum said in an emailed statement.
“We are delighted this program gave us an opportunity to learn more about one of our students,” McCollum said. “Matthew Zajac seems like a wonderful individual.”
Saturday was the first time NMSU offered its new incentives to up student attendance: $2,000 chosen from all enrolled main campus students, $250 from the student attendees and a coveted VIP black parking pass from student attendees.
Despite the incentives, only 1,371 students attended Saturday’s 26-16 loss to San Diego State University as the Aggies fell to 0-5. That turnout was down from 2,670 students at the game against rival UTEP and 2,360 against the University of Minnesota.
NMSU officials say they don’t know why attendance dropped.
Student Anthony Ellis won the $250 in cash for attending the game and staying to the fourth quarter.
Ellis, who is earning a master’s in business administration, said he received about 15 high-fives from people standing near him after his name was announced.
New Mexico State mascot Pistol Pete “professionally” counted out the prize in $20 bills, Ellis, a former bank teller, said.
“My friends all joked that drinks were on me after the game,” he said in an email. “I told them I planned on paying rent with it on the first. Plus the Aggies didn’t end up getting a ‘W’ so it wouldn’t have felt right buying a keg … and drinking to the Aggies.”
Ellis said he supported the incentives to encourage students to attend the game.
“This promo created a buzz on campus, and I had multiple conversations with other students about showing up to the game because of this unique giveaway,” he said. “That simply doesn’t happen over free T-shirts.”