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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, September 21st, 2019
By: Dave Fegley (9-21-19)
It’s extremely rare for any small school to have four players during a decade receive scholarships offers from Power 5 programs. Not only does Southern Columbia now have four, but all four are in the same class and each Tiger is heading to a university in the Big Ten. “I have said it now for the past couple of years. We have been fortunate to have a lot of talented classes come through our program, but there isn’t one that is more talented than this one,” said Southern head coach Jim Roth. “This senior class is a once in a lifetime type of class and it shows with the offers that some of these guys have received to get the opportunity to continue playing at the highest level in college.”
Fresh off of another Southern shutout victory last night, Preston Zachman has decided that he will be heading to Wisconsin to join the Badgers football program next year. Hours after the athlete threw for a career high 257 yards in a 62-0 win against Central Columbia, Zachman and family hopped on a plane in Philadelphia and headed west to be in attendance as Wisconsin hosted Michigan in a pivotal conference matchup. Moments after the Badgers dismantled the Wolverines in Madison, he made his announcement official. Zachman took the time to narrow down his scholarship offers, but he knows that his final decision is the perfect fit and he picked the right weekend to make it known as the Badgers won their home conference opener 35-14.
Zachman’s physical stature, and calm demeanor, seems to make a perfect fit for him in The Badger State as he is set to join Paul Chryst’s program in the Big Ten’s West Division. “Wisconsin is the number one college town in the country. All of the coaches are just great people as well,” said Zachman. “I love everything about the campus and I just pictured myself being here.” Since Chryst took over in 2015, the Badgers have been one of the top teams in the conference and as highly ranked as third in the country. Wisconsin has won a bowl game in each of Chryst’s four years with the Badgers including a 2017 Orange Bowl victory. Heading into Saturday afternoon’s kickoff, the Badgers were ranked #13 in the country according to ESPN. Wisconsin will continue to climb higher in next week’s rankings after the beatdown that they gave to #11 ranked Michigan in a contest that wasn’t as close as the final scored indicated.
The most interesting thing about this now quartet of Tiger commits is that they all will be heading to different programs in the conference, but only one of them received an offer from Penn State. In May, wide receiver Julian Fleming committed to Ohio State. Fleming is ranked as the top receiver in the country by all of the recruiting services. Then, during the summer linebacker Cal Haladay decided on Michigan State and running back Gaige Garcia chose Michigan as their respective destinations. Like the other three, Roth is confident that his fourth senior has what it takes to make an impact at the next level. “Preston has the build of a player that you see when you turn on the television to watch games on a Saturday afternoon. His combine numbers that he put up were really eye-opening to the recruiters. Obviously our other guys that have already committed do as well,” Roth said. “The bottom line though is you need to prove you belong at the next level by your play on the football field. These guys have done enough to get those offers with their production to make an impact.”
Max Tillett is a fifth Tiger that is looking to get the call of a lifetime from a Power 5 program. He has been in contact with the coaching staff at Penn State throughout the year as well as a couple of other programs in Power 5 conferences. “We are all hoping for Max to get that call. I don’t know if it’ll be Penn State or someone else, but that would be awesome to have five players either all in the Big Ten or at least five players all playing at a Power 5 school,” Zachman said. Those five, plus Lear Quinton who accepted a scholarship offer to wrestle at Brown University, are the captains of this year’s Southern Columbia team. Before they all make the move to the next level their goal is to lead the Tigers to a state-record 10th PIAA Championship. “The focus is strictly on finishing out our final season together as high school players on top where we belong. The pressure of what is next is mostly off our back and we all feel even more confident than we did before,” said Haladay who is SCA’s all-time leading tackler.
Zachman spent a lot of his summer traveling around the country attending different prospect camps. The stop he made at the Badgers’ campus, which is officially known as the University of Wisconsin-Madison if one wants to get technical, happened to be where those combine numbers and workout efforts paid off the most. “I contacted the coaching staff back in the spring and they told me to come to their camp, so I went in June. At the end of the camp they told me they were really impressed with me and that I dominated. Two days later I got a call and they said they saw my 40-yard dash time and bench press reps at 225 and they wanted me to come back,” said Zachman. “They told me not many kids in the country can post those high numbers, so they invited me back for an official visit. My dad and I went on the visit the next weekend and had a great time.” Zachman ran a 4.56 forty and put up 21 reps on the bench at Wisconsin. Those numbers were tops for any prospect that the Badgers had attending their summer prospect camp. The fastest time that Zachman registered was a 4.44 at Ohio State a few weeks prior to his stop in Wisconsin.
Zachman, along with the other seniors, have some business to take care of on the high school gridiron as Southern Columbia is vying to win a third consecutive PIAA Class 2A State Championship and they are hoping to repeat as High School Football America’s Small School National Champions. So far, the Tigers are off to a 5-0 start and have shut out all of their opponents in the process by a staggering margin of 284-0. Zachman has been a big part of the success as a two-way starter, but he has done most of his damage at quarterback this season for SCA. “We don’t usually like having our quarterback going both ways, but in rare cases we have made exceptions because we think the player can handle it,” said his head coach. In Roth’s 36 years at the helm, only two other quarterbacks, Brad Fegley and Jon Fetterman, have gone both ways. All three players were outside linebackers on the other side of the ball.
As a sophomore and junior, Zachman started at linebacker and wide receiver. The 6-2, 210-pound product spent half of the regular season last year stepping in at the quarterback position for injured Stone Hollenbach, who is currently a preferred walk-on at Alabama, as Hollenbach broke a bone on his throwing hand. Zachman won’t be going to Wisconsin as a quarterback though. “For Preston as the season has gone on, our coaches started to take him out on defense because they didn’t want him hurt for offense. I think that put some unwanted pressure on him but now all that’s in the past with his commitment,” Haladay said. He will be heading to the Badgers most likely as a defensive prospect.
Zachman isn’t worried about what position he will be asked to play. “Originally, they said they wanted to make me an inside linebacker, but they told me they are offering me as an athlete. They think I could be possibly a safety or have a spot somewhere on offense if needed,” Zachman said. Over the past couple of weeks, Zachman’s defensive snap counts have gone down, in part to focus more on his offensive mindset as the signal-caller, but mostly to keep him healthy as the Tigers haven’t been challenged yet this season. “I don’t think it’s affecting me at all. I think it’s just good experience for me in the long run. It puts me in different situations that I wouldn’t be put in on defense,” said Zachman when asked about his lower amount of reps on the defensive side of the ball in recent weeks.
Coming into this season, Zachman had registered 41 receptions for 720 yards and seven touchdowns on offense for his career. Defensively, he had tallied 126 tackles and 11 sacks. He has now thrown for over 1,000 yards in his career. In 2018, Zachman became the first player in school history to register touchdowns in all five possible ways outside of special teams during a season. “Preston’s stats might not pop to outsiders when they look at them because he hasn’t been our team leader in any of them, but that doesn’t paint his picture. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s played a little bit of everything for our team during his three years starting. Having guys like Julian (Fleming), Gaige (Garcia), Cal (Haladay), and Max (Tillett) putting up record-setting numbers doesn’t help his statistical case either,” said Roth with a chuckle.
Zachman’s versatility factored into the Badgers giving him the opportunity to join their program. “I like Coach (Paul) Chryst because he is someone that believes in me. He always tells me how he just loves my whole story on how I became a linebacker and basically how I ended up at any of the positions I’ve played,” said Zachman in regard to Wisconsin’s fifth year head coach. “Coach (Mickey) Turner would be the assistant that played the biggest role in my recruitment. He was obviously trying to convince my dad and I that Wisconsin is the place to go, but he wasn’t leaving anything out. He was very honest about everything.”
On top of his success on the football team, Zachman was a bronze medalist for the Tigers state championship winning wrestling program last season. This year however, he may not be getting a chance to win an individual gold medal as he is considering the possibility of enrolling at Wisconsin in January to get off to a quick college start. Zachman is also set to be a returning starter on the baseball diamond for SCA. “I will find out later on this weekend whether I’m allowed to early enroll or not. I would like to, but it depends if they have spots left to early enroll,” said the three-sport athlete. That decision will be the second toughest choice he will make. The first, was narrowing down his decision of where to head for the next level. “My second choice was Temple and it was a tough decision. They have had a lot of recent success and it is close to my home,” said the Elysburg resident who also had offers from Air Force, Army, Kent State, and Youngstown State.
In addition to the eventual possibility of going up against his high school teammates in Big Ten conference games, Zachman is excited to compete in Camp Randall Stadium in front of a rowdy fan-base that holds over 80,000 people. “Wisconsin’s stadium is something to always think about. They have the third oldest stadium in the country, and they always have a huge crowd,” Zachman said. “It’s nice because there aren’t any other sports teams in the city besides the other ones at the university, so the fans are all about the Badgers.” The Wisconsin fans are well-known as loud supporters, but most famously the Badger faithful is known for jumping around.
The most renowned tradition of the Badger die-hards takes place in between the third and fourth quarter of their home football games when the fans “Jump Around” to House of Pain’s hit song. Initially, the tradition was banned due to safety concerns because the stadium literally shook when the fans were jumping up and down to the beat of the music, but it has been reinstated after renovations took place to Camp Randall Stadium. That tradition is something that Zachman has to look forward to, but for now he is focused on jumping around the field wherever it is that the Tigers need him for the remainder of 2019 on their trek for ten.
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