An old football saying goes something like this: Skill-position players make headlines, but linemen win championships.
Matt Zahn may do both.
As vital as line play will be to Shoreham-Wading River’s drive for what would be a fifth Suffolk County Division IV championship in six years is Zahn’s presence on both sides of the line.
“Our line situation is depending on the leadership of this guy right here, Matt Zahn,” coach Aden Smith said, looking toward Zahn after Thursday morning’s practice. “So, as he goes, our line goes. He’s a senior. He’s a three-year starter, and he’s going to set the tone and the expectations for the younger guys.”
No doubt about it, Zahn is an athletic force, all 6 feet, 4 1/2 inches, 270 pounds of him. The senior guard/defensive end said Stony Brook, Villanova and Holy Cross are among the colleges interested in his services. In the more immediate future, however, he will be doing what he can to try and help SWR return to the Long Island Class IV final. The Wildcats’ bid for a fourth Long Island title came up short last year with a loss to Cold Spring Harbor.
Zahn should be a big help, though.
Asked for an assessment of Zahn, teammate Jake Wilson offered: “All I know is I wouldn’t want to go against him. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
What makes Zahn so good?
“His size, his strength,” said Jeff Lachenmeyer, a junior offensive tackle and nose guard. “He’s fast. He’s got everything. He’s got the whole package.”
Zahn said, “I just want to do the best that I can for my team.”
SWR is seeded No. 1 in Suffolk Division IV, but at the same time, the Wildcats graduated three linemen who started both ways — JoJo Puckey, Liam Mahoney and Jack Logan. That means some rejiggling is required by line coach Tom Foley.
“It’s a big loss, but I think the guys that are stepping up are doing a great job so far,” said Zahn, an All-Division player last year. “They’re learning new positions, which is always difficult at first, but they’re getting the hang of it really quickly.”
Smith pointed out that SWR will play some teams whose lines have remained intact since last year. Of course, those teams don’t have Zahn, who Smith said pays attention to details. Not only that, but with so much game experience under his belt, Zahn can act as a pseudo coach himself.
“He’s a great teacher,” Lachenmeyer said. “If I need something, he’ll tell me. If I don’t remember what to do on a play, he’ll help me out. He’s a great kid.”
SWR has something of a tradition of producing strong lines. They were the foundation of the team’s only three Long Island championships from 2014-16 when the Wildcats steamrolled opponents. “That’s been the backbone of our team, years in and years out,” said Smith.
What will this year bring?
“We got a really, really athletic group of linemen,” Wilson said. “Last year we had a little bit more size, but this year we’re a little bit more athletic, and I think they’ll be able to get the job done.”
Wilson, a junior tight end who can also play H-back and outside linebacker, is part of the plan.
“Jake is very limited on words,” Smith warned a reporter before an interview. “He doesn’t say much, but he’s got relentless effort. You need an elephant tranquilizer to stop Jake.”
And then there’s Lachenmeyer, who Smith said “takes pride in what he’s doing. He wants to get it right.”
So, between now and the season-opening game against visiting Bayport-Blue Point on Sept. 6, what must the SWR linemen do?
“They just got to keep getting better, hone in on the details because [the] offensive line is a very nuanced position,” Smith said. “It has a lot of details. It’s not just smacking people around. We ask these guys to do a lot.”
And that’s what’s expected of Zahn.
Photo caption: Matt Zahn, pushing open a gap while Xavier Arline receives the snap during practice, is the biggest piece of the Shoreham-Wading River line. (Credit: Bob Liepa)