UNH football captains have a lot in common
New Hampshire linebacker Alan Buzbee (54) tackles Massachusetts tailback Jonathan Hernandez (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Gillette Stadium,, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
New Hampshire's left guard, Chris Zarkoskie, left, reaches to hug running back Dontra Peters, right, after peters scored his second touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Central Connecticut State at Cowell Stadium in Durham, N.H., Saturday Sept. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
DURHAM – Chris Zarkoskie and Alan Buzbee came from different towns, but they clicked when they met during their freshman year of high school at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. They didn’t make a joint decision to attend the University of New Hampshire, but they lived together at UNH during their first two years on campus. And by the time they were seniors, the two Jersey boys were Wildcat football captains.
“Getting both of them from the same school turned out to be one of the better gets of our recruiting,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said. “Both kids are special, and I’m not just talking about as football players, I’m talking about as kids, as guys, I’m talking about as leaders. Very rarely do you get two captains from the same high school, two captains from the same team. It says something about the respect these kids have earned. It’s special.”
Middle linebacker Buzbee, left guard Zarkoskie and the rest of the UNH seniors are preparing to make one last run in the FCS playoffs, starting with Saturday’s game when No. 11/13 New Hampshire (8-3) takes on No. 9/9 Wofford (8-3) in Spartanburg, S.C. Obviously the group would like to play four more games together, ending with the national title game on Jan. 5, but no matter what happens, Zarkoskie and Buzbee know they’ve enjoyed a unique experience.
“It’s kind of cool to go out being captains, having gone to high school together and spending eight or nine years together. It’s been a fun ride,” Buzbee said.
The Wildcats offered Buzbee a scholarship during his junior year of high school, and they didn’t pull that offer when he broke his foot early in his senior year. Buzbee returned that dedication by committing early to UNH. It took a bit longer for the ’Cats to make Zarkoskie an offer, but in the end they couldn’t resist the blue-collar offensive lineman.
“The more you watched the tape the more you liked the kid. He was our type of kid,” McDonnell said. “He didn’t have a perfect frame, but he was an aggressive, hard-nosed kid who played center and guard and stayed on his blocks.”
Zarkoskie started all 13 games at center for UNH as a sophomore in 2010 before moving to guard for the last two years. He started all 11 games this year and was named to the All-CAA Third Team. Buzbee also began starting as a sophomore in 2010 and he’s finished third on the team in tackles every year since (264 total tackles). This season he’s also come up with three interceptions and 70 return yards.
But, as McDonnell mentioned, their contributions extend far beyond the field. Buzbee received the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award last year and he’s battled through numerous injuries and surgeries, including one stretch of three operations in five weeks, to inspire with his toughness.
“Alan is a great kid,” Zarkoskie said. “He works real hard, he plays real hard and I respect everything that he does up here.”
Zarkoskie received the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award in 2010 and ’11, was a member of the CAA Academic All-Conference Team both years as well, and was a candidate for the CAA Football Student-Athlete of the Year last season. This year he’s been nominated as a National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award semifinalist and he’s been nominated to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. Zarkoskie volunteers with the “Pease Greeters,” welcoming military members back from service overseas when they arrive at Pease International Tradeport, and he volunteers at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey when he returns home.
“All of his accolades speak for themselves,” Buzbee said of Zarkoskie. “He’s an unbelievable kid and he’s been like that ever since I’ve known him.”
Rust or rhythm
Since they had an open date on Nov. 10 and got a first-round playoff bye last week, the Wildcats will be well rested for Saturday’s contest. After playing just one game in the last three weeks, however, there’s a chance they might be rusty as well. But that’s not how the ’Cats are looking at it.
“We’ve just been trying to get back to our rhythm, get back to the game plan like we were earlier in the year,” said sophomore receiver R.J. Harris, who was named to the All-CAA First Team last week. “I think a couple extra days off is really helping us.”
“We’ve been hitting a lot lately, so it keeps us on our toes,” Zarkoskie said. “I don’t think (rust) should be an issue.”
Not their first rodeo
Chances are good neither Wofford nor UNH will be undone by any extra pressure the playoffs may bring. New Hampshire is making its ninth straight playoff appearance, the longest streak in the nation, and Wofford is in for the fifth time in six years.
“When you have guys that have been there before they understand that there are no do-overs, that you’ve got to get it done that particular day, and they understand that the teams that we’re going to play and face are going to be high-caliber teams, very well-coached teams, very motivated teams,” Wofford Coach Mike Ayers said. “They know that it’s going to take their best on that particular day to get it done and we have a lot of kids that this is their third time playing in the playoffs, just as New Hampshire does.”
“Going out to Montana State last year (for the playoffs), it was a whole ’nother environment, it wasn’t like the regular season,” UNH’s Harris said. “And now going into this game this weekend, we know what to expect, so I feel like (the experience) helps me out a little bit.”
No BC comment
McDonnell’s name has come up as a possibility to take over the vacant head coaching position at Boston College, but the UNH coach is not interested in discussing that topic right now.”
“Lot of other things in life that I have to worry about other than the BC job,” McDonnell said.