Harlan: Zubovic latest Belle Vernon lineman to draw Division I offers
Belle Vernon's Blake Zubovic has a passion for blocking.
Sometimes it's defensive linemen he's out to stop. Sometimes it's baseballs in the dirt.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound junior emerged this month as one of the WPIAL's top football recruits, an all-conference offensive lineman who drew his first scholarship offers from Pitt, Maryland and Buffalo in a two-day span. But on spring and summer afternoons, Zubovic is an oversized catcher and power-hitting first baseman who once wondered whether college baseball was in his future instead.
“My goal was, after my high school career, not to be done with sports,” Zubovic said. “I wanted to continue my sports career somehow at the next level. It could have been baseball, but with how big I'm getting now, I'm definitely getting more looks in football.”
It's rare to see a catcher with his size, in high school or the majors. But the athleticism Zubovic shows on the diamond is also what enticed Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and Maryland's D.J. Durkin to take a chance on him, said Matt Humbert, Belle Vernon's football coach.
“He's not just a big guy,” Humbert said. “He's a multi-sport athlete, and that baseball experience definitely benefited him from a football standpoint.”
Zubovic is projected as an offensive tackle in college. However, his versatility let Humbert play him at guard at times last year as a first-year starter. Coaches voted him a first-team all-conference offensive lineman in Class 4A.
Defensively, he shifted between end and tackle.
“He meets the eye test and meets the measurables,” Humbert said. “Schools are intrigued by his athleticism for a big guy, and his versatility.”
Syracuse and N.C. State also have reached out but not yet offered.
Zubovic's recruiting process gained momentum quickly. Pitt and Maryland offered him scholarships Feb. 1. Buffalo joined a day later. He's in line to become the fourth Division I lineman from Belle Vernon in recent years, after Dorian Johnson (Pitt), Devin Hannan (Old Dominion) and Nick Sweitzer (Georgetown).
The 16-year-old said he's not in a hurry to commit, but also doesn't plan to wait until next February.
“I'd like to visit a lot of the colleges I'm interested in,” Zubovic said, “and meet their training staffs, their coaches and see their facilities. We'll see how that goes, and I'll base my decision off that.”
He scheduled his first campus visit Tuesday afternoon to Pitt, where former Belle Vernon star Johnson just finished his senior season.
“I was always a Pitt fan, but I definitely watched all of his games,” Zubovic said, “because that's kind of the guy we look up to.”
Zubovic will remain a two-sport athlete and play baseball this spring for his high school, he said, but has no doubt now that football is his future. However, with his 400-foot homers, college baseball was a realistic alternative, Belle Vernon baseball coach Daryl Hixenbaugh said.
Consider, Zubovic won an under-14 home run derby two summers ago in West Virginia.
“He's an absolute beast at the plate,” Hixenbaugh said. “He can swing it. That kind of natural power doesn't come around a lot.”
Zubovic has played football since 10, but also traveled for baseball tournaments with either the Mon Valley Minors or Beaver Valley Baseball.
As a sophomore, Zubovic was a catcher and first baseman for Belle Vernon's junior varsity. When baseball season starts next month, he'll mostly man first base for the Leopards, who already have a senior catcher committed to Mercyhurst.
Footwork remains an area of focus for Zubovic, who had hit his way onto the varsity roster last year before a hip injury cut short his season. He was hurt sliding into a base but recovered without surgery.
“He was absolutely annihilating junior varsity,” Hixenbaugh said. “He was ready.”
He's an inch or two taller and at least 30 pounds heavier since his sophomore football season, Zubovic said, but baseball should help maintain his agility.
“My footwork,” he said, “is the thing that I think separates me as a big guy.”