Football | Two years after monster season, Skarzynski returns as coach
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09
Zack Skarzynski (LA ’12) stood 20 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage on Bello Field last week, arms folded as he watched the Jumbos’ defense compete against the offense in drills. As each running back burst across the line, the 2011 NESCAC tackles leader stood still, merely observing, occasionally pulling a player aside to offer advice.
Two years ago on Saturdays, Skarzynski could be found wherever the football was, streaking across the field to crush ball carriers. As Tufts’ middle linebacker, he racked up 97 tackles as a senior, 45 more than anyone else on the team.
Skarzynski no longer eats tailbacks for breakfast; he has a full-time job in project management at Suffolk Construction, waking up early and going home late. But after graduating, he was itching to get back on the field. He kept in touch with head coach Jay Civetti, and Civetti ultimately asked him to return as a volunteer coach this season.
“He knows where my head and heart are at, and he knows my knowledge of football,” Skarzynski said of Civetti, who coached him for three years as Tufts’ offensive coordinator and for one year as head coach. “I’m just more or less an understudy for all these guys.”
To the Jumbos, though, “Coach Skar” is more than just a coach-in-training. He brings not only the killer instincts that made him a great player, but also an understanding of Tufts’ defense and of football fundamentals.
“He’s just kind of a natural football mind,” junior tri-captain Tommy Meade, who led the team with 68 tackles in 2012, said. “He’s big on knowing everything that everyone on the defense is doing ahead of time. That’s why he was such a stud as a player.”
Skarzynski has already served as a valuable resource for a linebacking corps brimming with potential. The Jumbos return all three of their starters: Meade will man the middle, while senior tri-captain Sean Harrington (56 tackles) and sophomore Matt McCormack (44 tackles) will play outside. While a 97-tackle season is unlikely for any of the three — if only because they will share the workload — Skarzynski could help take them to the next level.
“He’s been in there watching tape with us, staying late, being at meetings, rushing over here from work,” linebackers coach Patrick Madden said. “I’ve got a lot of responsibilities with the special teams as well, so when I’m doing that, he’s got all the guys on the side. He’s doing a great job.”
The upperclassmen who played with Skarzynski marveled at how he made the most of his 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound frame.
“He wasn’t a huge guy when he played, but he had great technique and he’d always get his hands on you,” Meade said. “He’d always get around the big guys, always be making plays.”
One moment stood out in Harrington’s mind as an embodiment of Skarzynski’s gritty style.
“The one play I’ll never forget ... was to the right side, and he was reading flow to the left,” Harrington said. “The left guard picked him up, lifted him off his feet and carried him back about 10 yards and just planted him into the ground. And he bounced right back up.”
Skarzynski will try to instill a similar toughness in the 2013 linebackers.
“When you play with an attitude and an aggression — a relentlessness — which is preached in the unit and across the team as a whole, it lends itself to being successful,” he said.
But Skarzynski is not just preaching intangibles. He is teaching technique and strategy, working with the players on the field and in the film room. And while he won’t be around every day — he’s mostly available on weekends and late on weeknights — the players know they can turn to him at any time.
“I know he’ll be around absolutely as much as he can,” Meade said. “I’d expect mostly weekend stuff, and then if we have late practices, maybe. But at the same time, I guarantee if I shot him a text now he’d come and watch film with me if I needed him.”