Zavrl’s hard work earns football honor, track title
Just hours after undergoing surgery to repair complete tears to the anterior cruciate, medial collaterial, and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee, Mark Zavrl was wheeled out to midfield on Oct. 12 to join his fellow Andover High football captains, in the pouring rain, for the coin toss before their game against Lawrence.
Two weeks earlier, Andover coach E.J. Perry had come to the daunting realization that his valuable linebacker/running back/kicker would miss the rest of the season after being tackled in a 15-13 win against Xaverian.
“What happened that night was tragic,” Perry said. “We were all hopeful when we got into the meetings’’ after the game that Zavrl’s knee injury “might be a strain, but when we got the news, the coaches were all devastated.”
Zavrl, however, suited up one last time.
On Thanksgiving morning, donning his blue-and-gold No. 33 Golden Warrior jersey, he walked out to midfield for the coin toss prior to Andover’s 22-19 playoff-clinching win over Central Catholic.
On Sunday evening, Zavril was one of four seniors to receive the Paul Costello Courageous Player award at the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame banquet in Randolph.
“It’s pretty special, because I know my buddy, back when he was a senior, he got it and it was important to him,” Zavrl said of former Andover High teammate Brian Miller, now a sophomore tight end at Boston College. “It just means a lot for all the guys and the coaches to be recognized for such an award.”
In the four games that he was on the field as a senior, Zavrl converted 15 point-after attempts, booted a 35-yard field goal, and rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
But Perry said that the Golden Warriors (10-2), who lost to Division 1 Super Bowl champion St. John’s Prep, 21-0, in the playoffs, missed Zavrl’s presence the most on defense.
The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Zavrl first made an impact on the varsity as a sophomore, charging into opposing backfields with his tenacious play.
“In Andover, we had to change the culture as far as toughness,” Perry said. “We always had the skill guys who can run up and down the field, and Mark was the signature tough guy. He enjoyed hitting people and being that middle linebacker.”
Zavrl had racked up 40 tackles (10 solo) and an interception before his injury.
“He gave tremendous effort for his sophomore and junior seasons,” Perry said. “That sophomore class was the class that identified and made us a signature program in the state. The spirit of him just carried on throughout. To get something like this to end his Andover football career, that’s the biggest thing.”
On Sunday, exactly seven months after tearing up his knee and outfitted in a heavy brace, Zavrl captured first place in the javelin at the Division 1 outdoor track relays with a heave of 178 feet 9 inches. His throw helped Andover capture the Division 1 title at the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association event.
“The brace is sturdy. I’m at 75 or 80 percent right now,” Zavrl said.
As a junior, his prowess on the gridiron attracted interest from Boston College, Holy Cross, and Penn State.
This fall, he will attend Phillips Exeter Academy, suiting up as a linebacker and kicker, hoping to rekindle interest from Ivy League football programs.
“It’s going to be good for my academics. And I’m just trying to heal up,” Zavrl said.
“It’s tough to lose your senior season, because there’s a sense of pride. Ending like that was the hardest thing. But it’s turning out to be kind of a blessing. I was going to go straight to college,’’ he said, but now he’s starting to think that a postgraduate year “is the best route for me.”
Area football coaches
join state hall of fame
At Sunday’s banquet, five coaches were inducted into the state high school football association’s hall of fame, including Rich Cullen and Ed Nizwantowski , formerly at Malden and Peabody, respectively, and Pentucket Regional coach Steve Hayden .
Also, Mike Barbati (St. John’s Prep) and Jim Kent (Melrose) were honored with Assistant Coach of the Year awards.
The fiery Nizwantowski was on the Tanner sideline for 22 seasons (1982-2004), compiling a 179-64-2 mark. His contract was not renewed in 2005.
“It was an unfortunate turn of events, but it’s water over the dam and I’ve moved on forward with my life,” Nizwantowski said. “I’m really humbled about reaching this milestone. I’m thankful for the selection committee. It wouldn’t have happened without excellent assistant coaches.
“And we were blessed with student athletes who understood what it took to be successful,’’ he said. “We worked very hard. I’m getting the award, but it’s for everybody that was a part of Peabody football when I was there.”
Hayden (202-141 record) plans to return for his 33d season at Pentucket this fall.
“I’m more impressed with all the people that have shown up, and to recognize it for them,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve touched their lives. It means a lot. It’s a tremendous amount of pride to be involved with all the people’s lives — it’s a big family.”
Hayden was delighted to receive the award, he said, and he is looking forward to getting back on the gridiron next season.
Cullen, now a high school football official for the Northeastern/Cape Ann conference, coached at Malden Catholic for nine years, then at Malden High from 1999-2005, compiling a 65-97-2 record.
“Obviously, an individual honor in a team sport is nice, but it also honors everybody who worked with you and played for you,” he said. “It’s not a one-man effort; it takes the effort of a lot of people.”
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com.