Born and raised in Chicago's impoverished south side, an only child of biracial descent (African American and Croatian), Chris was raised by his mother, Zora, a single parent surviving on $250 per month from public aid. In 1987 Chris graduated from Chicago Vocational High School and received a football scholarship from legendary coach Lou Holtz and the University of Notre Dame.
Chris made history as part of Notre Dame football’s all-time winning streak with 23 consecutive wins. As a starter for Notre Dame, he compiled an impressive 33-4 record. Of those 37 games, his team went into 21 of those games ranked #1 in the nation. Chris was also instrumental in helping Notre Dame win the National Championship in 1988. In recognition of these athletic accomplishments, Chris was honored as a White House guest of former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr.
Chris was elected captain of the Fighting Irish football team his senior year, by which time he had also been dubbed “the meanest player in college football” by Sports Illustrated. He won numerous collegiate awards, including consecutive consensus and unanimous All-American titles (1989 and 1990), United Press International’s Lineman of the Year (1989), Chevrolet’s College Defensive Player of the Year (1989), the Lombardi Award (1990), MVP of the Orange Bowl (1991). Chris was a member of Walter Camp’s College Football All-Century Team (2000) and Sports Illustrated’s All-Time Notre Dame Team (2006). He was also named one of the top 10 greatest Notre Dame football players by Athlon Sports (2011).
In 2007, Chris was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, as one of the best defensive linemen to have ever played the collegiate game. Not only was he one of the youngest players to ever be inducted, he is only the third defensive lineman from tradition-rich Notre Dame to call the College Football Hall of Fame home. In 2010, Chris was also inducted into the FedEx Orange Bowl Hall of Fame for his outstanding performances in back-to-back Orange Bowl appearances (1990 and 1991).
As a nationally acclaimed motivational speaker, Chris' story is well documented. He has been profiled in various media outlets: “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, NBC's “EXTRA”, ABC's “Good Morning America”, TV Guide, Sports Illustrated, USA Weekend magazine, Highlights for Children, People magazine, "Schwarzkopf's America"/NBC Nightly News and Reader's Digest. For three years, Chris co-hosted “Bears Extra”, a live weekly television show dedicated to the Chicago Bears. He has also moderated various town hall meetings on numerous topics including race and gender issues, the influence of sports in our society, and the influence of drugs on America’s youth. His ability to inspire and motivate others has earned him sponsorship associations and speaking opportunities with multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola, DirecTV, McDonald's Corporation, Northern Trust Bank, Reebok International, State Farm Insurance, Tribune Company, United Airlines, and UnitedHealthcare.
Following his 1991 graduation from Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies, Chris was drafted by Hall of Fame Coach Mike Ditka and the Chicago Bears football team. On the starting lineup, Chris averaged 100+ tackles per season, placing him among the league's best defensive linemen. In 1995, the Kenner toy company reproduced Chris’ image and likeness as an action figure for the NFL Starting Lineup line of toys. Chris’ action figure sold over 25,000 units in the United States. He also received one of sportscaster John Madden’s famed “Turkey Legs” for his performance on Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions.
In 1996, while still playing for the Bears, Chris started law school at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Upon his release from the Chicago Bears, Zorich finished the 1997 season with the Washington Redskins. Chris retired from the NFL to finish his law degree at Notre Dame Law School in order to further his ability to help those in need. While at Notre Dame Law School, he served clients at the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, a non-profit organization designed to provide free legal assistance to those with minimal resources.
Upon graduation from law school in 2002, Chris worked for the Chicago law firm of Schuyler Roche, P.C. While there, Chris worked in the Business Enterprise and Estate Management practice areas. He also managed the team responsible for submitting Requests for Proposals (RFPs) with the city of Chicago, the Chicago Housing Authority, and the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.
In 2008 Chris became the Manager for Student Welfare & Development and Manager for Youth Programming & Community Outreach for the University of Notre Dame’s Athletic Department. In those roles, Chris was responsible for directing the University’s multi-million dollar summer sports camps, along with developing and implementing life skills programs for the University’s 700+ student-athletes. Chris was also on the team of senior staffers responsible for scheduling opponents for the football program.
Chris successfully handled special projects for the Office of the Provost and the senior staff of the Athletic Department in the areas of reviewing contracts, liaising with Bowl Game officials, representing the University at national and international events, and conducting and reporting on various investigations. Chris offered assistance in the area of recruiting for all of the University’s 26 sports when needed and he was instrumental in helping to raise funds for the Lou Holtz statue on campus.
In 2009, Chris teamed up with Hall of Fame Coach Lou Holtz as they coached former Notre Dame football players to a victory in the 2009 Notre Dame Japan Bowl at the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan. Chris coached the defensive line and served as the Director of Football Operations for the bowl game. The game against the Japanese All-Star Team celebrated the 75th Anniversary of American football in Japan. The event was televised one week later in the U.S. on CBS College Sports.
Chris has a wide range of collegiate administration experience with two board memberships, one at Lewis University – an NCAA Division II school with over 5,400 students and a “Best Colleges” ranking by U.S. News and World Report (Athletic and Finance Committees) – and the other at The Illinois College of Optometry – the oldest optometry school in the country with over 130 externships worldwide (Compensation and Strategic Planning Committees).
Upon his return to Chicago, Chris worked as the Director of Athletics at the campus of St. Sabina Catholic Church and Community Center on Chicago’s south side. His primary function was to provide administrative leadership in planning, implementation, coordination, supervision, and evaluation of the athletic programs. In 2014, Chris accepted a position with the Chicago Park District and supervised several parks as well as managed and produced a summer music festival for over 100,000 attendees.
From 2015 to 2018, he served as the Director of Athletics at Prairie State College, a community college in Chicago Heights, Ill.
At PSC, Chris was responsible for all decisions pertaining to the athletic department and is the main catalyst for rebuilding the school’s academic services program for its student-athletes. Chris also became the men’s soccer coach, when the coach left unexpectedly in the beginning of the season. He was able to guide the program to a winning record and a berth in the conference playoffs. During his short time at PSC, he has been a featured speaker at various local and national events and still managed to lead the athletic department to success on the field and courts with 32 all-conference student-athletes, 21 all-conference academic award recipients, three conference coaches of the year, a regional coach of the year and a #11 year-end national ranking for the men’s tennis team. Under Chris’ tutelage, PSC saw their first soccer player receive a scholarship to a Division I program in over ten years. From May 2018 to July 2019, I served as the athletic director at Chicago State University.
In January of 2016, Chris attended the National Football Championship game as a guest of the College Football Playoff Committee. During the weekend, he signed autographs, attended events, did interviews and promoted the game of college football. In March of 2016, Chris was asked to serve as a Trustee for the National Football Foundation’s Hall of Fame Board. The Board’s mission is to enhance the game of college football by increasing its nationwide presence, improving safety and to help shape the policies and procedures for the future of the game.
In 1993, The Christopher Zorich Foundation was established to honor Chris’ mother, Zora Zorich, who passed away during his senior year at Notre Dame. The Foundation’s programs offered diverse community support: youth programs providing cultural, educational and entertainment activities; Thanksgiving grocery home deliveries to 1,500+ Chicagoans; women’s recognition on Mother’s Day through flower and cosmetics deliveries to various women’s shelters; and a holiday gift program providing gifts and matching sponsors with disadvantaged children and families. In its 15 years of service, these combined programs have assisted over 150,000 individuals. During that time, Chris personally raised over a million dollars and served as the Foundation's chairman.
An integral undertaking of the Foundation was The Zora Zorich Scholarship, a scholarship award bestowed annually at the University of Notre Dame and Lewis University. As a pioneer in his field, Chris was the first student-athlete in the history of the University of Notre Dame to start a scholarship at his alma mater. Since his initial undertaking, the University has received millions of dollars for scholarships from former student-athletes. In 1998, The University of Notre Dame commissioned The Christopher Zorich Award to recognize the contributions of student athletes to the University community and the community-at-large.
While overseeing The Christopher Zorich Foundation, Chris also partnered with the United Way. One element of this partnership included managing local and national United Way campaigns. He also starred in a United Way commercial that aired in Chicago during his time with the Chicago Bears.
Awards and Affiliations
Chris has received honorary degrees from East West University, St. Xavier University, and Governors State University.
In 2008, Chris was appointed to The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, an organization that advocates to influence and reform various issues plaguing college sports (e.g., recruiting practices, gender equity, and academic eligibility). Several of the Commission’s recommendations have been adopted by the NCAA. The Commission is comprised of university presidents and devoted educators; Chris was the only commissioner who held a position in intercollegiate athletics.
Chris has also served as a board member for various non-profit organizations including KaBoom! (playground builder), The Joffrey Ballet, Special Children's Charities, and Urban Prep Academies. He also served on the administration and finance committees as a board member for the Chicago Public Library, one of the largest library systems in the country with 79 locations and a $100+ million annual budget.
Recognized for his fierce commitment on and off the playing field, Chris has received a score of athletic and community service awards including the following: selection as an alternate for the 1993 Pro Bowl, the 10th Anniversary "All-Madden Team," two-time NFL Man of the Year Finalist, the NFL Players Association's Byron "Whizzer" White Award for Community Service, and USA Weekend's "Most Caring Athlete.” Chris personally received the Jesse Owens Foundation’s “Humanitarian Award” from the family of the late Olympic great Jesse Owens. He also personally received Muhammad Ali’s limited commission “Humanitarian Award,” from Ali himself.
Chris is a devoted reader with an extensive collection of over 2,500 books. He even wrote the forward for Greatest Moments in Notre Dame Football History, a book chronicling the history of Notre Dame football. Chris is also an avid motorcycle rider and a 2006 graduate of Chopper College, which enabled him to build his own custom chopper motorcycle. He even appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Wheel of Fortune game show. Chris is married to Candy Rose and lives in the Chicago area suburbs, with his two rescued Rottweilers, Athena and Icy.