Player Spotlight: Zach Zwinak
“Judging by the fact that I had [Zach Zwinak] as the 3rd or 4th string running back at the beginning of , I would say that was some bad coaching on my part because in eight and a half games, he gained 1000 yards.” This quote from Penn State head football coach, Bill O'Brien, at his 2013 season opening press conference illustrates the meteoric rise that Zach Zwinak has had through the Penn State system.
A three star recruit in Penn State's highly regarded 2010 recruiting class, Zwinak wasn't even considered the best runner of the group. That label belonged to Silas Redd, who remains the most significant player to leave the university following the implementation of the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Sandusky scandal. In fact, Zwinak wasn't even expected to compete with Redd, he was supposed to be blocking for him. All throughout his four years at Linganore High School in Maryland, Zwinak played as the fullback. He did indeed carry the ball with success (he rushed for 3500 yards his last two years), but was certainly seen by recruiters as more of a blocker instead of a runner based on his physique.
After redshirting his freshman year due to injury, Zwinak played as a fullback, if at all, his sophomore year. As O'Brien mentioned, Zwinak wasn't really expected to be a factor at the beginning of last season, but he certainly became one.
In 2012 Zwinak became the 14th different Nittany Lion to rush for 1000 yards in a season. Amazingly enough, the only games the running back started last year were the last four of the season.
When Bill O'Brien cited the stat that Zwinak accrued 1000 yards in just eight and a half games last year, he wasn't lying. Zwinak only carried the ball three times in the first three games of the season last year before breaking out against Temple. And breakout he did.
Entering the September 22 matchup at home against the Owls, the then junior running back only had accumulated ten yards total in his career. His longest run in the game against Temple was 15 yards. The bulldozing tailback finished the game with 18 carries for 94 yards, both career highs by a long shot. From there Zwinak's season took off.
He went on to rush for over 100 yards in six of the Nittany Lions' final eight games. He scored seven touchdowns and even caught 18 passes over that span. Zwinak really answered the call when his coach finally put him in the starting lineup. As a starter, he averaged 147 yards per game. This included a whopping 179 yards on 36 tough carries in Penn State's biggest win of the season against Wisconsin.
This year, while Zwinak is still clearly the starter, a different role is in order for the former fullback. His physical style makes him an ideal goal line back. This season, he has already reached the end zone an amazing eight times, which is tied for first in the entire NCAA.
Another important role that Zwinak plays is that of a security blanket for his young quarterback, Christian Hackenberg. The hard running style of Zwinak opens up some play action and screen pass opportunities for Hackenburg that allows him to feel more comfortable and make accurate throws.
Zwinak is clearly enjoying playing in the current Penn State offensive system that is now in year two of Bill O’Brien calling the plays. “Playing in O'Brien's offense is fun because you never know what's going to happen,” said Zwinak during his Tuesday press conference. “He's always got something crazy going on, because he brought it down from the NFL, so it's definitely fun to play in.”
Zwinak and the rest of the Penn State offense take on Indiana on Saturday. Be sure to stay tuned to ComRadio to hear from Zwinak, Bill O'Brien and more, plus analysis and interviews, all starting at 9:00 a.m.
Brendan May is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.