Those who know him best describe him as quiet, polite, observant and motivated.
This “gentle giant”, who credits his father with the shaping his character, seems like your every day guy when he’s not between the white lines.
But after the simple act of putting on a helmet, things change and this oft-silent giant turns into something entirely different.
Growing up south of Chicago, Kansas City Chiefs rookie offensive lineman
Always having had the dual personalities, Fulton describes the changes that occur when the chin strap snaps into place.
“Just putting the helmet on, just brings out a monster,” Fulton said. “It’s time to fight, that’s all it is.”
At 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, Fulton possesses the size and tenacity to play in the trenches.
Chiefs area scout Pat Sperduto saw the same thing during Fulton’s time at the University of Tennessee.
“He is a big, strong man,” Sperduto said. “Very physical, plays the game hard. Anything in his way, he’s going to try and crush.”
The head coach at Homewood-Flossmoor during Fulton’s time there, Kenneth Smith, routinely saw both sides of him, but admitted that while the “monster” side of Fulton is getting a lot of attention right now, the other side of him is equally as impressive.
“From a physical standpoint, he’s always been a massive human being,” Smith said. “But he has a wonderful personality that draws people into him. So he was the type of player that everyone loved to have as a teammate and the type of kid that every coach would love to coach.”
Fulton said his father was the person most responsible for shaping his character, explaining the lessons he learned from watching him as a kid.
“He was always dependable,” Fulton said. “I never expected anything from anybody. He just taught me how to be a good man and that everything would work itself out, and that’s what I live by.”
When trying to determine the catalyst for his transformation on the field, Fulton could only venture to guess that it comes from a desire to help those closest to him.
“Growing up I didn’t have a lot, I just want to be a person my family can depend on,” Fulton said. “Provide for them and take care of them.”
One of Fulton’s assistant coaches at Homewood-Flossmoor, Michael Patterson, whom Fulton describes as probably having the biggest impact in bringing him along as a prep football player, believes in Fulton’s ability to pick things up quickly.
“He’s very quiet, but he’s very observant and he’s always listening,” Patterson said. “When you tell him what you want him to do and how he is going to succeed, he’s going to go above and beyond those expectations.”
Patterson remembers watching Fulton as a freshman back at Homewood-Flossmoor, knowing it was only a matter of time before this slightly uncoordinated monster of a teenager would come into his own. He just needed some development, and it was during Fulton’s sophomore year that Patterson was finally able to start working with him.
“We stripped everything down from his stance to his hand placement,” Patterson said. “He responded in a way that every coach hopes for. When you got him on the field, whether it was just reps in practice or in the game, he had the same level of attack in every single drill and every down he was on the field.”
In addition to it beginning to click on the football field, Patterson also believes that Fulton’s dedication to the weight room helped push him to where he’s at today.
Even if that meant Patterson was late for dinner a few times.
“In addition to my coaching responsibilities, I also ran the weight room,” Patterson said. “Zach was always the first at the door and one of the last to leave. We were at the point where I had to physically push him out of the weight room sometimes so we could both go home.”
When you combined Fulton’s natural size with his new-found work ethic, along with his improving technique, the only trait left to check off for Patterson was whether or not he had the tenacity to play in the trenches.
It was here that Patterson developed the nickname, “Big Ugly”, for Fulton. A term of endearment he still uses today when the two see each other.
“He was willing to get ugly in there, and not in a dirty way,” Patterson explained. “But in a way that he would finish every block or try to finish every block with a pancake. Just trying to leave a lasting impression against every guy he played.”
While Fulton currently finds himself in a battle for the right guard spot here at Chiefs training camp, Patterson couldn’t help but think of the similarities of when Fulton first went to Tennessee. As a true freshman, Fulton found time on the field for the Volunteers, playing in 12 games and starting five.
Smith believes Fulton chose Tennessee because he wanted the challenge.
“He did that so he could compete against the best talent in the country, in the SEC,” Smith said.
While this isn’t college and the pads haven’t even come on yet, Fulton knows there’s still a long ways to go and admits there’s a lot of room for improvement.
Consequently, Fulton seems to understand where he could help his case moving forward.
“I won’t make the same mistake twice,” Fulton said. “If I do it won’t be often. I try and adjust to whatever style the coaches want.”
As Fulton and 89 other players here at Chiefs training camp continue living out their dream of playing professional football, even if it’s just training camp at the present. There are plenty of people out there who take pride in each of these guys being here, and playing at this level.
For Fulton, Patterson could be at the top of that list.
“I couldn’t be more proud of where he comes from, and what he’s accomplished to this point,” Patterson said. “But I have to honestly say, I think the best for him is yet to come.”
Chiefs fans will have the opportunity to try and witness that growth starting on Thursday, July 24 as training camp opens to the public with a 3:30 p.m. practice, with no admission charge for fans.
We’ll continue to have you covered here at KCChiefs.com with daily training camp news and updates, as well as videos, pictures and more.