The Wolverine

2021 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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82 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY JOHN BORTON F ormer Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr used to stress: Winning is about finishing. Zak Zinter em- braces the thought in his own way, as a blocker bent on burials. A second-year Wolverine who started four games as a true freshman last fall, Zinter isn't feeling his way. He blasted through this spring to become arguably Michigan's best offensive lineman, despite his newness to the lineup. "It starts with Zak Zinter," Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis as- sured. "He's the bell cow, to say the least. He's just a pure man mover, very smart. "He's got tremendous flexibility as far as positions. He can play the center position. He can play guard. He's been the guy that's really led our offensive line up front, from a talent standpoint." "It's really built around Zak Zinter," former U-M All-American blocker Jon Jansen concurred. "This kid is going to be a special offensive lineman." The why of it, for Jansen, isn't tough to figure out. There's an iconic photo of the two-time U-M captain absolutely burying a Colorado defender to begin Michigan's national championship sea- son in 1997. Zinter seeks to become a similar road grader, with a serious mean streak. When he talks about finishing, he does so with a certain smoldering threat in the air. "The first thing that comes to mind is finish," Zinter insisted. "I want to finish the guy in front of me. I want to move him from Point A to Point B, against his will. "When it comes to offensive linemen, you've got to be nasty. You've got to be physical. I'm always trying to finish my guy after the play." Zinter expects a whole lot of com- pany. He sees that as the clearest path to Michigan becoming the Michigan of old, the one fans are wait- ing to embrace. Jansen and Michi- gan's other former offensive linemen on the radio broadcast team long to see domi- nance up front. "We're going to be nasty," Zinter said. "We're going to finish guys. We're going to be the offensive line that we've needed over the past 10 years." He'll certainly represent a central fig- ure in anything the Wolverines accomplish up front. Listed at 6-6, 334 pounds, Zinter carved his way to roughly 325 by the end of May, looking to hit 320 or 315 by the time the season arrives. He doesn't mince words in discussing where he's headed, or why. "Losing some of the fat, putting muscle on — you can only get faster," he assured. "Fat doesn't do anything for you. It's all muscle. I wasn't moving bad at that weight, but I know I can do better." He upped his game in leverage, pad level, driving the feet, keeping hands low, etc., in the spring. All that after showing enough to start up front as a true freshman. Zinter doesn't care that 2020 became re- garded as a lost season for many. He still considers it as important, and a start toward bigger and better achievements. "It was exciting," he said. "I didn't know what to think coming in — just kind of work my way up the totem pole. Some things fell in line perfectly, where I was able to get the shot. I was grateful to get that opportunity. "Experience is something you can't recre- ate anywhere but playing in a game. Even in a weird year, not having any fans — there wasn't a lot of crowd noise — it's going to prepare me really well for this year." Big Steps Toward The Big House Zinter grew up in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Paul and Tiffany Zinter's tiniest child — at birth. He checked in at around five pounds, but it didn't last, he acknowledged with a laugh. "I was actually the smallest baby of all three of my siblings," Zinter said. "I was a real small baby. But I've been a big kid my entire life. My mom jokes about it: 'You were my smallest kid! I never would have imagined you'd grow up to be like this.'" The family moved to Massachusetts when he was in middle school, and by the time high school rolled around, he stood roughly 6-1, 280. He never minded standing out, size- wise. "It was an advantage," he said. "I liked being big growing up. I like be- ing big now. I couldn't imagine being a smaller guy, doing something else." No worries there. And the only con- cerns he harbored in his first two high school seasons, at St. John's Prep, in- volved not getting enough exposure to recruiters. When higher-profile Buck- ingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass., came calling, he and his football-playing brother jumped at the chance for a change of venue. Zinter took full advantage, becom- ing a state shot put champion and a top-three football performer in the state of Massachusetts. He had no trouble getting noticed, including by Michigan. In fact, Ann Arbor proved the venue for one of the first football camps he attended. "I fell in love with the school, the fa- cilities, the coaches," Zinter recalled. "We started talking, and after the first couple of games my junior year, they offered me." Others drew his in- terest for a time, but his recruitment be- came more a process of seeing if they lived u p t o M i c h i ga n 's strong first impres- sion. They didn't. "I definitely knew Michigan was the place for me," he said. "It was just like I had to make sure the other schools didn't feel as good as Michigan." An early enrollee in the winter of 2019-20, Zinter saw an almost immedi- ate payoff for the plunge into Big Ten FIGHT FIGHT TO THE FINISH FINISH Zak Zinter Is Looking To Play To The Whistle — At The Least Zinter played in all six games and start- ed four at right guard as a true fresh- man for the Wolverines in 2020. PHOTO COURTESY U-M ATHLETICS "The first thing that comes to mind is finish. I want to finish the guy in front of me. I want to move him from Point A to Point B, against his will. When it comes to offensive linemen, you've got to be nasty. You've got to be physical. I'm always trying to finish my guy after the play." ZINTER

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