Tyler Zelinski’s breakout senior season has been sponsored by former Browns punter Reggie Hodges, cast iron, protein shakes, Chipotle Mexican Grill and 2 a.m. film study.
That’s a lot to digest, so let’s explain.
Zelinski saw two years ago how a Highland quarterback should act when he was third string behind two-time Gazette MVP Bruce Kinsey and eventual 2014 starter Blake Phelps. Going the extra mile was expected, no questions asked, because brain is more important than brawn in the Hornets’ spread, read-option offense.
So Zelinski hit the weight room, hit the video website Hudl.com even harder and made doubly sure his receivers were prepared.
The right-hander epitomizes the Highland team motto of “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me,” which translates to “If you want something, you have to do the work to get it.”
The results have been solid individual numbers as the Hornets (6-3, 4-1) enter a game at Kent Roosevelt (3-6, 1-4) tonight on the verge of a Suburban League American Division title share and Division II, Region 4 playoff berth.
“He’s a great quarterback,” senior left guard Hunter Rinard said. “He’s a great leader and he leads the offensive line. Even in the Aurora game (a 38-28 upset) in the final minutes he was always repeating, ‘Forty-eight minutes.’ He’s almost like another coach. It’s his first year (as the varsity starter), but he’s always been our quarterback ever since we were in eighth grade.
“It’s amazing. His hard work, it’s almost unreal. That’s why he’s a captain. He’s a captain for a reason.”
To understand how Zelinski has 1,827 yards total offense and accounted for 18 touchdowns this season, one must start in the winter.
Zelinski, who attended St. Albert the Great School in North Royalton through sixth grade, knew his 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame wasn’t big enough to take a season’s worth of varsity pounding. He also knew completing 5-of-23 passes last season as an emergency starter wasn’t going to cut it.
Zelinski helped fix the former by hooking up with Hodges and Pro Sports Performance in Strongsville. A workout regimen revolving around a food plan and protein shakes was implemented, and Zelinski gained 25 pounds while naturally growing two inches. Two-mile trips across town to devour double-wrapped Chipotle burritos didn’t hurt.
The other half of the equation was honed with countless hours of mental reps, as Zelinski strongly suggested to his receivers — Joe Wiencek, Jake Sir Louis, Evan Kasulones, James Rogers and then-healthy Mitchell Hutchings and Brad Kohmann — to stay after practice, run routes and enhance chemistry that was initially developed last fall on the one-loss junior varsity.
The payoff has been significant. Highland’s passing game has been a revelation this season, with Zelinski throwing for 1,161 yards and six different players sporting 100 yards or more receiving.
Zelinski has been the catalyst. Take out blowout losses to 8-1 Ashland and 8-1 Copley — six of his 10 interceptions came in those games — and he’s got a 104.4 QB rating that’s higher than NFL stars Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson.
Zelinski also ranks fifth in Medina County with 666 rushing yards, making up for speed with a Kinsey-like ability to intelligently pick holes, move piles and, most importantly, absorb big-time hits from linebackers.
He’s on pace to join Kinsey (2013) and Jerry Scholle (2011) as Highland players to compile 2,000 yards total offense in a season. Kinsey and Scholle are the only All-Ohio QBs in school history.
“I know my teammates would do the same — we all get hit, we have to get back up,” Zelinski said of his toughness. “I know I have to lead this team. I can’t be lying on the ground, especially if nothing is wrong and I’m pretending to be hurt. I have to get up, be a good leader and be a good role model. I can’t let this team down.”
With added muscle came a hunger for brain food. Like Kinsey did, Zelinski stays up into the early-morning hours watching film after Friday games. What Zelinski does differently, though, is use Hudl.com’s video program to label each play call so he, his coaches and teammates can be more efficient in what they’re studying.
This is why Zelinski has good pocket presence and rarely makes a wrong read on Highland’s signature option runs despite having limited varsity experience entering the season.
It’s also why the Hornets, while inconsistent with a comfortable lead, are averaging 337 yards per game despite returning only starting offensive linemen Tyler Frederick and Hunter Meacham.
“It’s my senior year, so we’re really giving it all we’ve got,” Zelinski said.
Long story short, “Z” is living proof of a high school athlete reaching full potential the old-school way: Through hard work.
“He’s an extremely hard worker and a bright kid,” first-year coach Mike Gibbons said. “He’s been a pleasure to coach. He’s one of my all-time favorites.”