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IJAMSVILLE, Md. - It's not often that a county can lay claim to a U.S. Army All-American. But Frederick County now boasts two such players. One day after Governor Thomas Johnson linebacker Nick Forbes accepted the invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Linganore fullback Zach Zwinak made his intentions known at a press conference in his school's gymnasium.
"Playing in the Army All-American Bowl means a lot," said Zwinak, who will attend college at Penn State next year. "For four years I've worked hard … and now it's all come together for me.
"I've been watching this game on TV for years," Zwinak continued. "And now I'm apart of it. The idea of going is exciting. When I get there it's just going to be outstanding."
The school day hadn't even started, but the Linganore gym was packed with over 100 well-wishers, including the entire varsity football team. Zwinak, bashful and slightly embarrassed, sat in front along with his coach, Rick Conner, and his parents, B.J. Zwinak and Diane Thomas. Both parents stared in awe as their son walked to podium and thanked his coaches, administrators, teammates, friends and, of course, family.
"You always hope that some day this might happen," B.J. Zwinak said. "And then, all of a sudden it's like, 'Wow, that's your son out there.'
"We're just extremely proud," he continued. "We've seen all his hard work and dreams come to fruition."
Growing up, Zach Zwinak was always a little bigger, a little faster, a little stronger than his peers. So when he started football, he played several levels ahead of his friends. But it didn't seem to matter that Zwinak was playing against older, more experienced players - he always dominated.
By the eighth grade, he was running over linebackers in Linganore's "feeder" football program, overseen by Lancers coach Rick Conner. A year later Zwinak entered Linganore High School and began gashing defenses on jayvee. By his sophomore year he was a full-time contributor on varsity. Last season Zwinak became the premier fullback in the country, rushing for 1,447 yards and 19 touchdowns. Now, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is a four-star recruit, a Rivals250 player, a Penn State commit … and a U.S. Army All-American.
"It has just been surreal," B.J. Zwinak said. "You see Zach when he was little and watch him get better by leaps and bounds every year. It's just amazing."
Thomas echoed those sentiments.
"Zachary works very hard, and we always knew he had the potential," she said. "That's why we brought him to Linganore, where Coach Conner could get a hold of him."
Conner is widely considered one of the best coaches in Maryland. He routinely churns out state-title contenders and develops college-ready football players. But until now, Conner had never coached an Army All-American.
"In my mind I've coached a number of All-Americans, but Zach is the first one to be officially recognized," Conner said. "I'm real proud. This is a feather in our caps. You never really plan for this to happen, but Zach deserves this. He's a great representation of Linganore High School and he's a great representation of the coaching staff here. We wish him well."
Zwinak will undoubtedly represent well at the bowl game on January 9. He's curious to see how he fares against top-notch competition.
"Competing in Maryland is great, but this is on a national level." Zwinak said. "I want to show what I can do."
But the game is merely the culmination of a week filled with festivities. Zwinak, for his part, is looking forward to meeting the best high school players in the country, especially future Penn State teammates Khairi Fortt and Silas Redd. And making the trip with Forbes, who plays for Linganore's archrival, will make the experience even more enjoyable.
"We're only rivals when we play each other," Zwinak said. "We're friends. It will be great to go with someone else from Maryland who is right down the road. I'm excited."
Before Zwinak leaves Linganore, he still has one more goal to achieve: a state championship. It could happen. The Lancers are currently 7-0 and widely considered the Class 3A favorites.
"The team is really good and we're all together and focused on one goal," Zwinak said. "We want that state title."