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Lobo fans raise money for Aggie war veteran

Matt Zajac never asked for money or the attention.

But since missing out on the former Saturday night when his name was called as part of a $2,000 student fan incentive contest during a New Mexico State football game he did not attend, the 26-year-old student and Army vet has received plenty of the latter.

And now, after the way he admirably handled the bad news of his near fortune, maybe he’ll be getting some of that money after all – even if it has to come from a rival fan base.

Members of the fan website on Thursday raised more than $2,000 to give to Zajac, a double-amputee since losing portions of both legs in an IED explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, while serving in the Army in May 2007. They are now hoping to find the best way to get it to the Aggie sophomore.

“I saw that picture in the Journal of this guy trying to feed his grandmother, and he’s there on two metal supports,” website owner Mark Chavez, who started the campaign online Thursday morning, said. “That’s terrible. I realize there’s rules, regulations and whatever about he had to be there (at the game to receive the contest money), but sometimes you have to break rules to do the right thing. If they aren’t going to do it, we wanted to.”

Chavez posted a message on the site around 8 a.m. stating the story bothered him. The site had more than a dozen offers of between $10 and $200 within the first three hours. By 5 p.m., it had reached the $2,000 mark and was still going.

Zajac first heard of the fundraising efforts around 8 p.m. Thursday when he returned a message to the Journal a day after turning his phone off to attend classes.

“Wow. I don’t know what to make of it,” Zajac said, adding he never sought sympathy or even holds any ill will toward NMSU. “I didn’t really do anything. … That’s really generous, but I don’t really know what to do. I don’t need it like some people might.”

He said he planned to talk with Chavez today and decide what to do.

Zajac, an Alamogordo High School graduate who has volunteered in the past with families of wounded veterans, said maybe donating the money to some charity would be best. He was helping his 87-year-old grandmother Saturday night, a regular occurrence for him since the recent death of his father.

He told the Las Cruces Sun-News on Wednesday the money would be nice, but “my priorities were elsewhere.”

NMSU released to the Journal the same statement it gave the Sun-News on Wednesday from deputy athletic director David McCollum: “We are delighted this program gave us an opportunity to learn more about one of our students. Matthew Zajac seems like a wonderful individual. We are considering ways to recognize him, and his service to our country, in the future.”

NMSU has not yet decided on how it plans to “recognize” him.

“When it comes to sports,” Chavez said, “we all bicker and we all fight amongst each other. But in the end, we’re all New Mexicans, and this is an Iraqi war veteran that went and fought so we can sit here and argue about sports and games like this.”

The 0-5 Aggies and 1-3 Lobos play Saturday at University Stadium.

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