STATE COLLEGE – A high school video of Shamokin Area High product Blake Zalar last April grabbed Penn State head coach James Franklin’s attention.
At 6-foot-3 and nearly 300 pounds, the offensive lineman’s potential on the football field was no secret. He also garnered interest from Rutgers, Miami and Temple.
However, Zalar's speed during a 19-second track clip is what ultimately piqued Franklin's interest.
“I think I was on the road recruiting and saw on Twitter him running a 100-meter dash,” Franklin said. “And I was like, ‘Wow. He’s pretty impressive for a 300-pound kid running 100 meters and looked good running.’”
Penn State’s coaching staff contacted Zalar shortly after Franklin viewed the video. Zalar committed to Rutgers as a preferred walk-on in February, but in May he decommitted and announced he would attend Penn State as a preferred walk-on offensive lineman.
“At that point, he was committed to another school and we were able to swing him late,” Franklin said. “It’s very important to him. He’s really committed. He did a great job with a trainer. Really, kind of coming in here, he was probably further along from a strength and conditioning standpoint than a lot of freshmen are.”
Last week, Zalar was one of five Penn State players to earn developmental player of week honors. While he has yet to play a snap for the Nittany Lions, Franklin said the freshman has found ways to stand out during practices.
“He’s a kid that we’re pretty excited about; that we’re able to put him in practice, we’re able to function, and he’s able to get his job done,” Franklin said. “We’re pretty excited about him on special teams, on punt. We’re pretty excited about him on offense, as well.”
Henry Hynoski became Shamokin Area High’s football coach in 2018. It didn't take Zalar long to stand out to his new coach. Hynoski still recalls watching the rising senior squat 23 reps of 405 pounds during an offseason weight training session.
“That’s when I knew that this kid was really something,” said Hynoski, who played at the University of Pittsburgh and later won a Super Bowl championship in 2012 with the New York Giants. “He set a record right then and there. It was evident right from the start.”
Although Hynoski coached Zalar for only one season, what was most noticeable during their lone year together was Zalar’s consistent pursuit for perfection. His former pupil’s developmental player of the week distinction comes as no surprise.
“I guarantee you he’ll get that at least three more times this year because he’s 100 miles an hour,” Hynoski said. “I never saw anybody who works as hard as him. He has a goal and a vision to be an outstanding college football player and take his skills to the furthest level he can.”
Hynoski’s high school football responsibilities this season haven’t permitted him the time to visit Beaver Stadium in support of his former player, but Zalar earlier this month dropped in on his former coach and teammates for their road game at Central Mountain High.
“What a boost of energy he gave the team,” Hynoski said. “The guys, the coaches and everybody was just so happy to see him.”
Shamokin Area High defeated Central Mountain High 12-7 that evening.
Zalar’s off to a promising start at Penn State, and he’s made the most of the opportunities given to him in just a short time. Franklin is optimistic about his potential for the Nittany Lions.
“In my career, I have been places where a guy like that has played for us and played at a high level, so we’re pretty excited about him,” Franklin said.