For the first time in his college career, former St. John's Prep star running back Chris Zardas will report to preseason camp at UMass Amherst completely healthy and raring to go.
Zardas, who is projected as the starting fullback, has been plagued by a series of injuries since his freshman year for the Minutemen, ranging from shoulder problems to a serious knee injury; and that's not to mention an infection near his heart that was diagnosed after he collapsed on the football field during preseason practice.
Zardas is spending his summer in Amherst working out with teammates in preparation for his senior year, and he can't wait to get going on Aug. 9 when camp opens.
"I feel awesome, healthy for the first time in a while," Zardas said. "I did have minor surgery to clean up my knee last December, and I didn't do winter workouts or practice all spring. Doctors thought I might have tried to come back too soon from my serious knee surgery (suffered during the playoff run two years ago), but it's probably more the result of normal wear and tear from all my years in football. They cleaned up a minor problem in the meniscus and kept me away from spring ball just as an extra precaution."
Zardas could have gone through those drills, but the coaching staff is well aware of his talent. There is also the question of getting an extra year of eligibility because of all the injuries and illness, but that won't be determined until after the season ends.
"I think it would be great," Zardas said. "I haven't put too much thought into it because I have to wait for this season to end and my eligibility run out before I can apply for a medical redshirt. It's something in the back of my mind, and I could take an additional minor or grad courses, but right now I'm focusing on this season.
"We look real good and are returning a lot of people on offense. Our backfield and receivers are back, as well as our kicker. The defensive line is a real strength, and safety Jeromy Miles was named a preseason All American. The linebackers are young and inexperienced, but they'll come along."
Zardas, a 6-1, 230-pounder, is doing a lot of speed work, conditioning, running and lifting with a large group of teammates.
Last year, he played in 12 games, had 23 rushes for 138 yards and four touchdowns. The Minutemen open the season on Sept. 5 under the lights at Kansas State.
"We've got a great group of guys working hard. I'm lifting five days and running three times a week," Zardas said. "I'm going to be starting at fullback and doing one-back stuff, as well, so it looks like I'll get a lot of carries and catch a lot of passes. That's the perfect setup for me, and I want to make sure I'm in the best shape possible when we start those double sessions."
Jean DePlacido is a part-time writer and columnist for The Salem News. Contact her at email@example.com.