Maryland secured a commitment from Franklin Regional (Murrysville, Pa.) linebacker Brett Zanotto June 19, and afterwards we spoke to his head coach, Greg Botta, to gather more insight into the Terps' most recent pledge.
Here's our Q&A session with Botta:
Terrapin Times:First of all, Coach, can you break down Brett's game for us? What does he bring to the table as a player?
Greg Botta: I've been doing this a long time and I've seen some great ones, going back to when I was defensive coordinator at Penn Hills. And Brett is one of the best I've ever coached. He has a sense of where the ball is on the field at all times. His vision and range of motion is unparalleled with most anyone I've ever coached. And as a MIKE linebacker he can make tackles sideline to sideline. He also has great speed for a linebacker and runs [the 40-yard dash] under 4.6 seconds at times.
But the one thing coaches love about him, and I tell them [the college coaches] this right away, is his acceleration through tackles. [Area recruiter] Greg Studrawa for Maryland, when he put Brett's film on he was like, ‘Coach, I haven't seen this in a long time – where he actually runs through people.' You see some guys do that once or twice a game, but with Brett it's all game long.
TT:So he's a real thumper, a real downhill guy, huh?
GB: Downhill, yes, but he also has great range and instincts. I watched Brett in the [youth leagues] and I knew he was something special down there. And I brought him up to varsity as a freshman. That's how much potential he had, and he's fulfilled every aspect of what I thought he could do.
And I'll tell you, he's a great linebacker, but I'm excited about him running the ball and his potential there. I just can't afford to lose him in the middle [of the defense], but he's a great runner too.
TT:What does Brett need to work on to become a top-notch Big Ten linebacker?
GB: I guess at the next level he has to have the strength and endurance [to hold up]. Also, I think that if he was 6-3, 6-4 he'd be going anywhere in the country he wanted. But he just has to continue to improve his all-around game like anyone going from high school to college or college to the pros. He has to get better and not rest on his laurels, and he's not that type of person.
I think he'll get better. He'll understand the game at a higher level now, and more will be expected from him going forward. I'll tell you, we had a scrimmage [June 19], and we put Brett at outside linebacker and asked him to cover man-to-man. And he shut down everyone that came at him. He's just so physical and runs so well, it's very, very tough for anyone to get off of him.
TT:I know Brett said he's going to play MIKE at Maryland, but with his speed and versatility could he play outside linebacker or maybe some strong safety?
GB: Well, he's about 220 [pounds] now. I don't know how big they want their MIKEs at Maryland. But a lot of times when you put a kid on one side of the field, like at outside linebacker, you limit him to that area. But in the middle, with Brett's [abilities], he can do a lot more damage.
And can he be a strong safety at the next level? I have no doubt in my mind. I had a kid who played at Pitt, Mark Ponko, who played strong safety and had a great career. Brett's a little bigger than he is, but they're very much the same type of player.
Brett can play anywhere – outside linebacker, WILL, MIKE, strong safety. I'm sure he'll be 230, 235 by the time he gets to college, and he'll be a force.
And the thing with Brett is he's such a great athlete. He's a tremendous baseball player, basketball player and wrestler. He can be anything he wants to be. He's one of those rare athletes who you get once every 10 years as a coach.
TT:Do you see Brett as a guy who can contribute right away to the defense, at least on special teams?
GB: There's no doubt he can play special teams, but I was talking to Randy Edsall and Greg Studrawa – I got to know him real well when he was at LSU where he won a national championship – and they were so excited Brett committed. And Randy Edsall said to me, ‘We don't have a player down here like that now.' So that would lead me to believe they want him to contribute right away.
TT:So I'm guessing they were happy he didn't make that Syracuse visit June 20, right (laughs)?
GB: Well, you know I got to know the guy at Syracuse real well. He was at UCLA, and I knew him there, and now he's at Syracuse. He had some questions about Brett because he was only 6-foot, 6-1, and not 6-3 or 6-4. But I told him, put on the highlight film and just let me know. He put it on and said, ‘Greg, I just told our coach we've got to recruit him.'
But, yes, he was disappointed they couldn't get Brett on campus. They loved him too.
TT:How did the recruiting process go with Maryland? Can you describe that for me?
GB: Maryland, we sent them the Hudl tape and they loved him. Coach Studrawa came up and said they were going to offer him after his second visit up here, and Brett didn't even have to come to camp. A lot of teams wanted to have him go to camp, but when they saw him in person, his range of motion, how he hit, they offered him. Coach Studrawa said, ‘He can come to camp if he wants, but we're going to offer him [now].'
And then it was a matter of what Brett saw in Maryland. I gave him a list of nine or 10 things to look at when he was down there. And he fell in love with the campus, he knew there was a possibility of playing soon, they had the marketing degree he wanted, and more importantly it was close to home and his mother, grandfather and grandmother can get to his games without much of a problem.
TT:Yes, I met his grandparents at the one-day camp. Very nice people. It sounds like Brett really cares about them and has a strong family background.
GB: Yes, very much so. His mother, grandmother and grandfather are very influential in his life. It was important to Brett for them to be able to see him play. I don't know how healthy his granddad is, I think he needed help with a wheelchair down at Maryland. I know Brett looked at a lot of factors, and that was a big one.
TT:What kind of a kid is Maryland getting here in terms of a leadership role?
GB: He's not a very vocal kid. He's not a rah-rah guy. He's a lead-by-example type who lets his play do the talking. But during our scrimmage, a kid got beat and there were some words and kids mouthing off. And Brett said, ‘Shut your mouth and let's do our job.' So he'll speak up when he has to. You know, we've made the playoffs going on 11 years in a row, and he doesn't want anything to distract from that.
But as a kid he's very quiet and unassuming, though supposedly he likes to have some fun. On the field, though, he's ‘yes, sir' and ‘no, sir' to me. He's all business – every coach's dream.
TT:So you haven't witnessed any of those locker room jokes (laughs)?
GB: Well, I like to give the kids their space in the locker room, but supposedly he likes to jump around and play pranks here and there. He's still a teenager and likes to have fun, and I have no problem with that. But Brett is all business on the field, and off the field he never gets in trouble. He's just a great kid.
TT:Is there a play in mind that defines Brett that you can illustrate for us?
GB: Absolutely. I told him to make it the No. 1 play on Hudl and it'll grab everyone's attention. It's his very first play when you type in his name on Hudl.
It was our semifinal game against West Allegheny. A tremendous athlete… was blocking, and the quarterback goes to throw the ball. Brett's blitzing, runs through the line, blows up the lineman, blows up the blocker, knocks another guy over, reaches up and grabs the quarterback, and brings him down with one hand.
TT:That's great stuff right there. Last question. Can you compare Brett to another player at the college or NFL level?
GB: I had a kid named Tom Tumulty who was a tremendous athlete, a tremendous baseball player, he could do everything. Tom was 6-4 and played for the Bengals for five years and was just inducted into the Pa. Sports Hall of Fame. He was probably 6-3, 225 in high school and was just a great athlete and very strong. Tom had great vision, instincts, he could hit and he was just a great all-around player. Brett isn't as big as Tom, but they're very comparable in how they play on the field.
Coach Speak: Greg Botta on Brett Zanotto
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