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Wrestling helps FR's Zanotto refine football skills

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Top high school sports
Saturday, May 24, 2014, 10:00 p.m.
 

When Franklin Regional's Brett Zanotto was a sophomore, his football coach recommended he try a different sport.

But that's not as bad as it sounds.

If Zanotto wanted to become a better football player, he also should join the wrestling team, football coach Greg Botta told him.

Zanotto took that advice, won a state team title in wrestling this past winter and now holds scholarship offers from FBS coaches who want the 6-foot, 215-pound linebacker.

In hindsight, Zanotto considers it sound advice.

“I was hesitant about it,” said Zanotto, who soon will finish his junior year, “but I'm grateful now that I decided to do it. College coaches like a wrestler, I believe.”

Syracuse was the latest to offer, joining Maryland, Toledo, UMass and Eastern Michigan.

All five offers came in the past two months. Syracuse assistant Clark Lea visited Murrysville on Thursday and offered Zanotto a scholarship by phone Friday.

“I told Brett that wrestling would help him not only on the football field but also his recruiting,” Botta said. “When I say he's a 220-pound wrestler, these coaches' eyes light up.”

It's not uncommon for an athlete to play football in the fall and wrestle in the winter, but most don't.

Zanotto admits he likes football more than wrestling. He was an accomplished wrestler as a kid and stopped when he was 12. If Botta hadn't pushed him, he probably wouldn't have gone back.

Zanotto wrestles team events but not individual championships. Led by highly ranked teammates, he and Franklin Regional won the PIAA Class AAA wrestling title in February.

“I love wrestlers,” Botta said. “I think wrestling brings another mentality to football. That perseverance. That drive. It teaches a kid how to be physically tough and endure through tough times.”

In some ways, the sports use similar skills, Zanotto said. Wrestling has improved his footwork, lateral movement and quickness.

“Wrestling and football go almost hand in hand,” Zanotto said. “It's a very physical sport, and the conditioning that goes into wrestling is pretty extreme.”

An inside linebacker, Zanotto had 157 tackles last season in 12 games, with 101 solo tackles and 27 tackles for loss, according to team stats. He also rushed for 649 yards.

Zanotto will attend Pitt's summer camp and one at Penn Hills and then plan campus visits to the schools that have offered him.

Recruiters like his leg strength and acceleration through tackles. They also like his instincts.

“He's a very smart player with all the skills,” Botta said. “He's one of the most instinctual linebackers I've ever had, and I've coached a lot of good ones.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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