DENVER (AP) — Zack Golditch and Jordan Murphy have never met. Yet, they share a strong connection through football and a tragedy inside a movie complex.
Golditch, a sophomore starting left tackle for Colorado State, was shot in the neck as he sat in an adjacent theater on July 20, 2012, when James Holmes murdered 12 people and tried to kill 70 more during a midnight showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises," in a suburb of Denver.
In the main theater that night, Murphy, now a senior fullback at Colorado, was in the third row when Holmes began shooting. Murphy escaped by crawling on the floor before dashing toward the exit, a bullet flying by his head and lodging in the drywall.
These two players will be rivals on the field Saturday when Colorado plays Colorado State. But they are more than that. They're survivors.
"It's crazy that the two of us are playing in the same game after (going through) that," Murphy said. "You'll never be at peace with it. I don't have any flashbacks. I'll have an occasional nightmare, but it's very, very rare. I've put it behind me."
This has been a difficult summer for the families involved in the theater shooting. After 2 1/2 years of legal skirmishes and four months of grueling emotional testimony, Holmes was convicted of 165 felony charges and sentenced to life in prison without parole after jurors failed to agree he deserved the death penalty.
"It's absolutely a chapter closed," said the 22-year-old Murphy, who didn't attend the trial but did write a one-page statement before sentencing. "I wish I could've done something different, wish I could've tried to attack. But at the time, you don't have a choice. The way he was positioned, there's nothing I could've done.
"That's a hard thing to swallow as a football player."
Golditch was sitting one theater over in the building when Holmes began his rampage. The bullet went through the wall, hit Golditch in side of the neck and came out the back.
His father said he has put it behind him.
"He was determined not to allow this incident to affect him in any way," Stewart Golditch said. "Football was his passion prior to July 20 and it remains his passion after July 20. It's always been his passion."
Almost immediately after being shot, Zack Golditch asked when he could return to practice for his Gateway High School team in Aurora. Nothing was going to keep him from the field.
"The surgeon said that had he moved 1/16th of an inch to the right, his carotid artery would've been severed," his father recounted. "And had he moved 1/16th to the left, something else horrible would've happened. It's just a miracle that he wasn't hurt more than he was."
A three-year starter in high school, Golditch decided to attend Colorado State. He redshirted in 2013 and played in four games as a backup last season for the Rams.
In 2015, under new coach Mike Bobo, he's stepped in for Ty Sambrailo, who now protects Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
"My wife and I, we've watched (Zack) play in the Aurora youth league, went to every game in high school and we've gone to every home game at CSU," his father said. "We're very proud of him."
Until recently, Stewart Golditch didn't know anything about Murphy. He looked online to learn more about the player.
Murphy's road to Colorado actually began with him being a preferred walk-on at Colorado State in 2011. When then-coach Steve Fairchild was replaced by Jim McElwain (now at Florida) and brought an offense that didn't really utilize a fullback, Murphy transferred to Boulder. The Colorado native has been a special teams standout for the Buffaloes ever since. Murphy had 16 knockdown blocks last season on the kickoff unit.
"I looked at his biography and was shocked when I read it," Stewart Golditch said. "He was in theater No. 9 and got out of there alive? Just shocked. I want to meet him. I'd like to meet his parents."
It's a big game — and of course, Golditch will be cheering for his son. But he'll be watching out for Murphy, too, especially now that he knows his story.
"He got out alive. I can't find the words to express about how I feel about them," the father said. "They survived. I hope they live long and productive lives after having experienced a nightmare like that."
Freelance writer Monica Costello contributed to this report.