On a recent Saturday, Jim and Terri Foley made the trek from Holland to East Lansing to reintroduce the new “Zeke” to his home away from home –– and isportsweb was there to capture it. Zeke IV has been working hard to fill in the footsteps of his older brother, Zeke III, who suddenly passed away after battling a stomach tumor in early December. In the middle of Zeke IV’s “spring training,” he looks prepared for the fall with a number of new tricks ready to be displayed. In the video, you will witness some of the new tricks Zeke IV plans to perform and see how much Zeke and the Spartan fans who adore him mean to the Foleys.
While Michigan State’s football team goes through spring workouts in preparation for the 2017-2018 season, another team is going through a rigorous spring training of their own.
This team might not be hitting the bench press and squat rank with MSU trainer Ken Mannie, but they are running routes and completing passes. And while I’m personally not a gambling man, I’d bet the house this trainee has more stamina and agility than anyone on the Michigan State football team — or any football team for that manner.
Some of that might have to do with the fact that he has four legs — but nevertheless, Zeke IV is well on his way to becoming perhaps the most impressive Wonderdog yet.
Zeke the Wonderdog consistently captivates the 75,000 MSU faithful who pack Spartan Stadium every fall Saturday. And rain or shine, wind or snow, Zeke’s owners Jim and Terri Foley are enthralled by the love they receive from those fans. As for Zeke, he’s having just as much fun as the people watching him put on a show.
Jim and Terri Foley revived the halftime tradition of Zeke the Wonderdog back in 2001 after an 18-year hiatus. The Foleys won the tryouts with their dog, Dexter –– better known as Zeke II, and have been a staple at Spartan football halftimes and events ever since.
The original Zeke was owned by an MSU student named Gary Eisenberg, who — along with Zeke — competed at the disc-catching national championships at the Rose Bowl in 1977. MSU officials took notice and let Eisenberg and Zeke perform at halftime the following football season. Zeke I had a good run, but the tradition appeared to be over in 1984.
Enter the Foleys.
Jim Foley vividly remembers his first time on the field with Zeke II and hopes that Zeke IV — a dog Foley describes as “the most talented dog we’ve had yet” — will live up to the hype that Spartan fans expect.
“First time I stepped out there, we were out there for four minutes and it was like 100 degrees,” Jim Foley said. “I ran Zeke until he couldn’t walk. We were out there for four minutes, I came off the field, and I hadn’t taken a breath the whole time I was out there. Maybe one or two breaths. I was so excited that I couldn’t breathe.”
Unfortunately, Zeke II’s halftime performances came to an end after cataracts inhibited his vision. He passed the frisbee over to Zeke III at the age of 10 and relaxed — while still getting tons of attention from friends and fans alike –for another six years until his death.
Zeke III seemed healthy and appeared to be going strong up until December 2016, when he suddenly — and quite unexpectedly — passed away from a stomach tumor. Zeke III’s death hit the Foleys — and Spartan Nation — hard because Zeke III still had some good years left in him.
Zeke IV was sworn in sooner than expected as the next heir to the Zeke the Wonderdog throne.
Zeke IV goes by a few names in the Foley household –– the first being “Buckshot”. Jim Foley said that he would take Zeke IV to practice at a firing range to get him used to the loud noises of the band and crowd at Spartan Stadium. One time, though, instead of bringing back a Frisbee which Jim had thrown to him, he brought back a shotgun shell.
“I got to have a sound dog that isn’t alarmed by big bangs or noises, so I got him accustomed to gunfire so he wouldn’t spook in a crowd,” Jim Foley said. “First thing he did as a puppy was bring me a buckshot round. It just stuck. I came home, told the wife ‘we are naming him Buckshot’ and it stuck for an initial name.”
Though the Foleys still refer to him as Buckshot occasionally, they decided to go with a different name when they trot onto the fresh grass at Spartan Stadium with Zeke IV for the first time –– “Ranger”. Spartan fans might be familiar with the name. Ranger was used by MSU head coach Mark Dantonio to describe MSU defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson’s famous fumble return of a muffed punt to beat rival Michigan in in 2015.
Zeke IV has already been revealed to MSU fans, as he debuted in early December at the men’s basketball game against Oral Roberts. However, that’s nothing compared to the noise he will ultimately face when he debuts in front of the fully-packed stands this coming fall.
As Zeke was putting on his own preview exhibition for what’s to come at Demonstration Hall field on campus last weekend, passerby after passerby would stop and stare at the lab’s feats. Little kids wondered aloud at how he could still run at blistering speeds after so many sprints. MSU students took videos and pictures of the new Zeke — destined most likely for social media where I’m sure they received plenty of likes, retweets or replies with heart emojis, as dog videos tend to do.
To this author — who is admittedly not a dog expert — this Zeke appears to be a little bit more than an ordinary dog. The English labrador has a certain kick to him. A second gear, if you will. He certainly doesn’t appear to feel any nerves or pressure while performing. He loves the camera and the camera loves him.
Above all else, the Foleys are just happy to be a part of such a beloved tradition at MSU, and they plan on keeping that tradition going as long as they can.
“We just know that a lot of people just really appreciate Zeke — the students especially,” Terri Foley said. “When you think about the students who have their dogs back home and to be able to get their picture taken with Zeke and throw frisbees for Zeke, it’s a connection to home for them.”
Jim Foley said that they plan on incorporating many more tricks with Zeke IV, such as Zeke jumping off Sparty’s back for a frisbee and maybe even having the band major sling a disc out for Zeke after the major’s backbend at midfield.
“That’ll be a showstopper,” Jim Foley said.
Surely, the Spartan fans already believe that Zeke is a showstopper. But with these new tricks in the mix, the sound from the Spartan Stadium crowd that the Foleys and their trusted companion already feel when they are out there are going to get a lot, lot louder.
Soon enough, the cameras will once again be all over the three year-old Zeke IV. And I’d bet the house that he loves every moment — just like his “Zeke brothers” before him.