GCC, Franklin Regional grads make impact for Duquesne defense
It feels like old times for Nathan Stone, Carter Henderson and Brett Zanotto.
Through high school, the three Duquesne University football players worked out together. While Stone attended Greensburg Central Catholic and Henderson and Zanotto went to Franklin Regional, the three remained close friends.
They just never thought they would wind up as college teammates and starting in the same linebacker corps like they do for the Dukes (2-1).
“It's honestly amazing to me. Those are guys I've known since early in high school. We came up together, trained together and went to combines and camps together,” Stone said. “We had all gone our separate ways for college. It's crazy we ended up back together again. To be on the same team, starting as linebackers and making an impact as a collective unit is amazing to me.”
Coach Jerry Schmitt is thrilled to have all three on his Dukes squad.
“They are all very talented players. For us to have three local guys like that who have such a big impact on our defense is neat. We're happy to have them all,” he said. “They are all not only good football players, but good students and people, too.”
Henderson and Zanotto started college elsewhere and transferred to Duquesne. Stone started at Duquesne as a freshman and hasn't left the team's starting lineup since.
“I remember his first start was against Buffalo. I was a little nervous starting a freshman at inside linebacker against a MAC school,” Schmitt said. “The first play, they ran an isolation play and he stuffed the fullback and tailback. You could hear the popping sound through the stadium when he made the hits. I didn't worry about him anymore after that.”
Schmitt was right. Stone, a senior inside linebacker, has been a key part of the Dukes defense all four of his years. He earned NEC first-team honors last year and was selected to Lindy's Preseason All-FCS second team heading into this fall. He hopes to lead Duquesne to another NEC title.
“I've been blessed,” he said. “The team, as a whole, has been lucky to win two straight conference championships. It'd be phenomenal to go for three in a row. Right now, though, we're just focused on our next game.”
Henderson, a senior inside linebacker, first attended Penn State, but transferred to Duquesne after his freshman season. He made an impact with the Dukes as a sophomore and moved into the starting lineup last year.
“He's the quarterback of our defense, and he's the smartest guy on our defense,” Schmitt said. “He sets all our fronts and makes all the checks. He anticipates plays based off scouting reports and just being a good player. That stuff is hard to teach.”
Zanotto, a sophomore outside linebacker, first attended Maryland. He transferred to Duquesne for the spring semester and worked his way into the starting lineup.
“He is just learning our system, but he made some plays in camp where we went, ‘Wow!' He has good size and speed,” Schmitt said. “He is used to college football and playing at a high level. It's just a matter of getting into our system and working with the other linebackers. He'll get better and better. We're really happy to have to him. For a new guy, he got accepted by his teammates really quickly.”
The familiarity Zanotto had with Stone and Henderson helped him adapt.
“It's been awesome. I really enjoy learning from them. They have helped me out, especially understanding the defense and the way they play,” he said. “Everything is starting to fit better, and I am understanding stuff a little more every day.”
As team captains, Stone and Henderson look out for their other teammates, too.
“That was a big honor to be selected by my teammates and have the coaches trust me enough,” Stone said. “Having Carter right next to me is a huge help. His impact on the team has been tremendous.”
All three linebackers hope to get the defense in peak shape by the time Duquesne opens NEC play against visiting Wagner on Oct. 7.
“Obviously, we're not where we want to be just yet,” Henderson said. “We will get there and, when we do, it'll be a scary defense.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.