Striking a Balance

Diego Zubieta finds fulfillment in two seemingly contradictory worlds: art and football.

Contrast is a principle of art that refers to the arrangement of opposite elements. Light versus dark colors. Large versus small shapes. Smooth versus rough textures. Artist versus… football player?

Senior Diego Zubieta would refute the notion that there is a contrast between his being both a football player and an artist. Since childhood, the lessons he learned from both pursuits have blended together to develop his character, challenge his resolve, and provide him genuine joy.

“I’m a football player who loves art just as much as being on the field,” says Zubieta, who will graduate this spring with a degree in graphic and interactive design. “It’s given me great balance in life. Football is regimented and a physical battle, and creating art is a time that I have individual freedom and am encouraged to open my mind.

At a glance, football and art would seem to have little in common. One is a team sport dominated by physical force with defined rules and objectives. The other is an individual conception that is harmonic, creating visual expression through boundless imagination and technical skill. But artist and author Carrie Lewis cites that each great artist shares five common characteristics: persistence, patience, passion, sense of adventure, and discipline. Those traits are equally prized in the makeup of a player in pursuit of gridiron success.

Mural of Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III ’05, with the American Flag and the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in the background.
A mural Zubieta painted in the Student Center to honor Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III ’05, who was killed in action in 2006 while conducting combat operations in Iraq.

“Football and art are different, but how you get things done is very similar,” says Zubieta, who posted 135 career tackles in 37 games as a linebacker for the Hawks. “I needed to be disciplined in both, pay attention to detail, be willing to take risks, and battle through adversity. The skills are interchangeable, and I progressed in both worlds as a result.

Last summer, the world of football presented Zubieta with perhaps his greatest artistic challenge. Teammate Nick Venier, a junior who completed four years in the U.S. Air Force prior to enrolling at Monmouth, approached Zubieta about painting a mural in the Veteran Student Lounge in the Student Center. The Student Veterans Association wanted to honor Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove III ’05, who was killed in action in 2006 while conducting combat operations in Iraq. Zubieta eagerly accepted, but there was no playbook to study. Venier provided him with the space for the mural and a portrait of Cosgrove. The concept and presentation were entrusted to Zubieta.

“There were three main themes to the mural,” says Zubieta. “Lance Cpl. Cosgrove was the focal point, and we wanted to honor the history of the Marines and our nation’s flag, which is what he fought for. I used the famous image of the six U.S. Marines raising the flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima to honor the Marines and complement his portrait.

The mural took three months to complete, as Zubieta designed and painted between summer workouts. Following a fundraiser walk last fall, the mural was unveiled to the Cosgrove family. They were deeply touched by the commemoration and greatly appreciative to both Venier and Zubieta.

“I went into the project doing a favor for a teammate,” says Zubieta. “And I came out of it with a profound respect for the military and this incredible feeling that I helped a family honor their son and brother, who was a hero. Lance Cpl. Cosgrove’s mom sent a letter to the institution thanking me and Nick. It was really moving.

While drawing is his natural talent, Zubieta has broadened his skill set at Monmouth. His artistic repertoire now includes painting, sculpture, and computer graphics. He is also creating graphics for the Athletics Department to expand his portfolio. Zubieta is targeting a career in branding or packaging design and feels the campus location between New York City and Philadelphia is optimal for a designer.

“I loved everything about Monmouth,” says Zubieta. “I’ve made personal connections and developed friendships with people from so many different backgrounds. It’s been the perfect college experience for me.”