Waiting For More Answers

In recent weeks, murmurs of Stanford interest in specialists for the 2008 recruiting class and the late January commitment of Tampa (Fla.) King HS punter Daniel Zychlinski have prompted speculation regarding the status of longtime Stanford punting commit Matt Zubyk. Read on for information on the injury that has shaped Zubyk's recruitment and where he goes from here.

When San Diego (Calif.) Francis Parker School punter Matt Zubyk reversed his decision to commit to Virginia and instead pledged to Stanford back in August, many observers may have figured that the nation's #2-ranked punter had gone through enough drama for the entire recruiting cycle. In the months since his Stanford commitment, however, Zubyk has been forced into a frustrating holding pattern as a result of an unfortunate head injury suffered midway through his senior season for the Lancers.

"I got injured half-way through my season and had to forfeit the rest of my season," Zubyk explains. "I'm still getting over that injury right now. That's kind of thrown a wrench in all the plans for what was supposed to happen with my scholarship and everything."

Zubyk's recruitment was thrust into turmoil on October 13, when he suffered a concussion in a 36-15 loss to San Diego (Calif.) Horizon. The injury ended his senior season and cast doubt over his ability to be medically cleared to play football again, which in turn introduced new questions regarding his ability to accept Stanford's offer of a scholarship and a place in the incoming freshman class. To add insult to injury, the concussion occurred as Zubyk was forced into action at quarterback, a position he had consciously given up before the season precisely to avoid repeat concussions following a head injury he suffered as a junior.

"The frustrating thing is, you know, I'm a punter and that's what I was planning to do for Stanford and nothing's ever come out of playing punter," the senior understandably vents. "But I used to play quarterback and that's the root of all my concussion problems. This year, I wasn't supposed to play quarterback but there was kind of a weird situation where some stuff happened - we ran out of quarterbacks, and I got shoved back into the game at quarterback. There was a botched snap and I dove to recover the football and a guy jumped on top of me and hit me with the crown of his helmet on my head. Things kind of triggered from there."

What triggered was a chain of events that sent Zubyk searching for answers regarding his health and uncertain about everything from his ability to play again to his future destination for college. While the October concussion initially coincided with word that he had been accepted to Stanford, the resulting uncertainty regarding his ability to play football again cast doubt over his ability to claim a scholarship in Stanford's class and thus changed the way Stanford Admissions had to review his application. After months of waiting for further clarity on his admissions status, Zubyk can now cross one entry off the long list of questions rudely posed by his October concussion.

"Right now, I don't have my scholarship but they just last weekend let me back into the school," the relieved recruit explains in updating the latest in his saga. "I told them about my injury actually on the day that they called to tell me that I had been accepted into the school. Then after hearing about my injury, the admissions department wanted to reconsider. It's been about four months since then, and then just last weekend they let me back into the school."

With Zubyk clearing the admissions bar, he can now claim some measure of relief as he wades through the murky situation created by his latest concussion. Nonetheless, the question of whether Zubyk will ultimately be able to join the Stanford football team as a walk-on punter remains an open one. Eager to do his part on the football field, he has diligently sought out expert opinions in the hopes of eventually being cleared to play football again.

"You know, I've been flying to various doctors across the country, Dr. [James] Kelly and Dr. [Michael] Collins, and they're renowned for concussions studies," Zubyk shares. "The thing with concussions is that people know about the course of healing for a broken toe or broken thumb, but when you get into neurology, there's a lot of gray matter. There's not a whole lot people know about how things are going to go. Each case for each different patient is different. I've been flying around seeing these guys and seeing if they have any advice for the future. I saw them back in the end of December. Coming up in the springtime, I think, I'm going to go see them again. Hopefully, they'll have recommendations for me and the future of my football career. Right now, I have a walk-on [offer], yeah, but the future is still uncertain."

With this lingering uncertainty, Zubyk will continue his long recovery and hope for more definitive guidance and perhaps medical clearance sometime down the line. In the meantime, he reports slow progress on the road to recovery.

"My experience has been that it's almost steps to get better," Zubyk says of the recovery process. "It will seem like you're staying on a little plateau, not getting much better for a while but then all of a sudden you'll get to a different step and you'll feel better. But it's a really long process and it's frustrating, especially for my case. I've seen a lot of my friends get them and they're better in a week or able to play in two weeks or whenever. Obviously my case has been a little different."

Doubly frustrating for the scholar-athlete with a previously reported 3.83 weighted grade point average and 1970 SAT score has been dealing with an injury that affects aspects of his life far beyond just the gridiron.

"Senior year, it's been good, it's been fun with my friends and everything," he reflects. "But I've had to kind of dial everything down a lot just trying to get over this brain injury. Basically, the only thing that really helps, I guess, to speed up the course of the healing for brain injuries is to kind of shut everything down and avoid too much stimulus. So studying has been hard. Obviously, the classroom has been a lot more difficult than usual, but you can still get it done. So it's been fun but it's been kind of long."

Frustration has been the name of the game for all involved in the tumultuous recent months of Zubyk's recruitment. Most poignantly, the recruit himself has seen his health, college plans, and athletic future all thrown into doubt and has thus far only received limited answers to his questions. Meanwhile, the Stanford football team has had to hedge its bets in a year in which obtaining a medically ready punter prospect seems necessary with the graduation loss of four-year starter and Second Team All-Conference punter Jay Ottovegio, who finished his career at the top of the Stanford record books in punts and punting yardage. The coaching staff responded at the end of January by grabbing a commitment from Tampa (Fla.) King HS punter Daniel Zychlinski, but remains invested and interested in the future of Zubyk as well.

"There was a lot of uncertainty, kind of wavering back and forth," Zubyk says of the situation since the October injury. "There was uncertainty on my part because, you know, we're looking for all the answers we can find to tell Stanford about, but the doctors just don't have all the answers. They're doing research and it's a pretty hot topic in sports studies right now, these concussions. There's still a lot that nobody really knows. It was frustrating, I guess, for the coaching staff to not have answers to work with, but at the same time, it was frustrating for me kind of hanging there for awhile."

At this point, questions still loom over the recovery of Matt Zubyk from his unfortunate concussion. Whether he ends up on the Stanford football team as a walk-on punter competing with Zychlinski as Ottovegio's replacement remains to be seen. For now, he still plans on enrolling at Stanford in the fall and continuing to search for clearance on his medical status.

"I'm planning on it," he says regarding plans to enter the incoming class at Stanford. "I understand that it's a two-way deal. They did accept me into Stanford and it was contingent on me playing football. I understand that it goes both ways and I wasn't trying to get in on a cheap admittance or anything. I'm doing everything I can to be able to play football. I hope to be able to just hold up my end of the bargain."  

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