How former Ohio State safety Zach Domicone found success by not going to the NFL

Lori Schmidt
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State defensive back Zach Domicone lettered for Ohio State from 2009-2012.

As a football player at Beavercreek High School outside of Dayton, Zach Domicone dreamed of playing for Ohio State and then in the NFL.

Joining the OSU recruiting class of 2008, which included Terrelle Pryor, Jake Stoneburner, Etienne Sabino, and DeVier Posey, he was one step closer to that dream.

And despite his injury-plagued college career, the safety thought the dream was in sight when he attended the Buckeyes' pro day after the 2012 season. 

"I focused on my training, and I knew I had this last-shot workout in front of NFL teams," he said. "I had a really good workout."

He also had the example of former teammate Nate Ebner, who just a year earlier had signed with the Patriots. As a Buckeye, Ebner had contributed mostly by making tackles on special teams, just as Domicone had. Domicone took heart from the fact that he'd interviewed with the Patriots himself. 

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But the draft and subsequent free-agent signings came and went, and Domicone was without a team. 

That is why his is a success story.

"I remember I walked down the stairs Monday morning after everything had wrapped up," he recalled. "My mom was sitting there, and she said, 'Hey, I know you're probably a little bit down, but I have like five or six different job postings that I want you to take a look at.' "

A little bit down might be understating it. Up until that point, he had defined himself as a football player. 

Former Ohio State defensive back Zach Domicone was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree for four straight years.

"That's all you've done. You've been successful at it. ... And then, when it doesn't work out, it's easy to lose your identity or almost feel lost," he said. "Like, what's next? Because everything that you know is gone. All the structure in your life, everything you worked so hard to achieve, it's just over. It just ends. There's no halfway house or program that eases you out of it." 

Fortunately, Domicone's family had encouraged him to have a backup plan. At that time, Ohio State wasn't quite as thorough when it came to educating players about their post-playing career options. Now they have programs to address that. What Domicone had was his own DIY version. 

"I started to lay that foundation as soon as I stepped foot on campus," he said. 

That involved working with advisors from the Fisher College of Business "to understand what the best kind of major and the best academic path" would be. He sought out mentors. He made connections. 

And when his mother handed him job applications, he filled them out, eventually landing a position at L Brands, where he was an operations manager. 

Three years there, and he was very happy. But then he received a LinkedIn message. He almost deleted it, thinking it was spam. 

"It was a short message," Domicone said. "It was just something like, 'Hey, we came across your profile. You seem like you'd be a good fit.' And the job description."

His mom convinced him to respond. One week later, he interviewed with Apple. Two weeks after receiving the note, he was brought out to California for an onsite visit. In three weeks, he was working for the world's most valuable company. 

Zach Domicone works for Apple in new product operations, working on projects like the just-launched AirPods3.

"I am in new product operations, and my role is to take all of the innovative ideas, feature sets and products and bring them to life for our customers," he said. "My most recent project was AirPods 3, which just launched."

In other words, he works out the logistics of bringing new products to market. 

And he has let go of identifying primarily as a football player. He remembers the exact moment that happened, right as he was heading out to California for his job interview. 

"It was crazy. I was sitting at the airport, and I was thinking about, 'All right. Did I pack everything? Did I do this? Did I do that?' And I forgot to bring a championship ring," he said. "And I remember all our player development and job opportunity-type of people in these workshops were like, 'Hey, that's something you should think about wearing in any type of interview setting. It's a conversation starter. It sets you apart.'

"And I remember I forgot it. And I remember I thought to myself, 'Well, this is like a new chapter. This is almost like me leaving my identity as just a football player behind, and taking the next step, starting my new career.' So it was kind of a cool moment." 

He also got married. He met wife, Rosa, in August 2019. Throughout the pandemic, they found ways to spend time together, and they exchanged their vows in July of this year. 

None of this would have happened, Domicone believes, if he had spent any time in the NFL. 

"I wouldn't have been able to get where I'm at today if I would have had, had any sort of, like, couple years off, out of school, bouncing around, not getting directly into the work force," he said. "Everything kind of worked out perfectly for me to get to where I'm at." 

And he likes where he's at, even if he knows the reality.

"My really good friend Nate Ebner ... you say, 'Wow. He never started here. He was a special teams player. Nobody thought he had a shot. He was able to go get drafted and is still playing in the NFL.' Those are the stories you look at as success stories," he admitted.

But Domicone also knows how hard he worked to create a success story of his own. 

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