Following the dismissals of Darta Lee and HoJo Watkins, offensive line has become an even bigger need for Illinois football in the Class of 2018.
Three-star Plantation (Fla.) American Heritage center Zack Zambrano showed at Saturday's Illini Showcase Camp that he could be a great fit.
“Camp was great,” Zambrano told Illini Inquirer. “It was great learning from Coach (Luke) Butkus and the rest of the staff. I had a great time and I performed very well. I got a great impression of Illinois and the day before I got a visit and got to see campus as well so that amazing.”
Butkus has laid a good foundation for Zambrano, and the quick and strong center holds him in very high regard.
“We’ve been talking for the last couple months at least a couple times every week so it was great to work with him and learn from someone as good as him,” Zambrano said. “He thought I did really well and I talked to him a lot about my technique like what I need to improve on and what I did well.”
Standing at 6-foot-3 and 276 pounds, Zambrano isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he was very effective in leading his high school team to a state championship as a junior.
“I’m really good at pass protection,” Zambrano said. “It helps because I have some of the best defensive lineman in the nation to help get me ready. I’m aggressive, I have a strong punch, I can get off the ball quickly, and I can put people on the ground.”
The value of an education from a university like Illinois is extremely important to Zambrano.
“The school is a great school and it’s a renowned education,” Zambrano said. “It’s one of the top-10 public universities in the United States and that’s one thing that I’m looking for.”
Champaign is quite a trek from his home state of Florida, but Zambrano doesn’t think that the distance will be too much of a factor in his decision.
“I’m OK with the distance,” Zambrano said. “I’m really trying to find the school that’s right for me. I don’t want to let distance impact my decision. The biggest thing is I want an environment where I can be comfortable with the coaches and I’ll have the opportunity to develop into a good player. I want to feel at home.”
He holds an offer from fellow Big Ten foe Maryland, while Western Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Southern Mississippi and Tulane are all pursuing him.
“I like Maryland,” Zambrano said. “I did take a visit. It’s someone who’s in the running, but I’m also looking at all my options and see what fits me best.”
A decision from Zambrano could happen in the near future as he’d like to decide before his upcoming season, and Illinois is in a good position at the moment.
“I like working with the coaches and I have a really good relationship with them and they have great academics and the campus is awesome,” Zambrano said. “They’re doing very well.”