By Jean DePlacido
Chris Zardas is an Eagle again. The former St. John's Prep Eagle signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent Saturday.
He was watching the NFL draft on television at his Wakefield home when the phone rang. It was the call he had been waiting for, and the UMass Amherst star was thrilled to be offered a free agent contract.
"I was so excited I don't remember the man's name, who called from the Eagles," said Zardas, the starting fullback for the Minutemen the last two years. "I was watching the draft on television with my parents when it came. I knew Philadelphia was very interested, and felt that was my best shot. They had sent me a letter expressing interest in signing me as a free agent."
Zardas was told the team was sending a contract for him to sign and rushed to his agent Kristin Kuliga's Boston office to sign it late Saturday afternoon.
"I had been told that once the draft ends teams immediately start making their calls to the free agents they were interested in signing," said Zardas, who overcame injuries and illness that plagued him during his first two seasons at UMass. "Honestly, I didn't care if I was drafted or caught on as a free agent. I don't know any details yet, but was told I would get a call later to tell me when to report for mini camp."
Zardas, a 6-foot-1, 230 pound fullback with excellent speed and good hands coming out of the backfield was primarily used as a blocker for tailback Tony Nelson. He had 43 carries for 164 yards and three touchdowns this past season. He also caught seven passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
He was named All-CAA first team and New England Football Writers First Team. In February, Zardas was invited to play in Texas vs. The Nation football game in El Paso, Texas. He got the nod as the starting fullback for The Nation and scored a touchdown while several scouts looked on.
Many scouts had flocked to UMass games this year to take a closer look at Vladimir Ducasse, the highly touted offensive lineman who was taken by the Jets in the second round as the 61st pick. That was the highest pick for a Minuteman since 1968 when Greg Landry was drafted in the first round by Detroit.
"I talked to Vlad this morning, and he was thrilled to be taken in the second round," said Zardas. "We all felt he'd go pretty high because he's a really good player. It worked out for me and a lot of other guys on our team because he brought a lot of attention. Because so many scouts came to get a good look at him guys wound up talking to me and others on our team. We had a really good draft class this year with a lot of guys signing free agent contracts and some getting tryouts with teams."
Zardas was impressive at the Boston College and UMass Pro Days last month. His best in the 40-yard dash was 4.59, 10-3 broad jump, 39 ¬-inch vertical high jump; 4.01 short shuttle, and 6.80 in three cones.
He has been training under Eric Koloyanides at Athletic Evolution in Woburn. At St. John's Zardas was an impact player all four years, and a three time Catholic Conference All Star, who ran for over 4,000 career yards and 48 touchdowns. He led Division 1 in TD's as a junior and senior.
After a strong performance at both Pro Days several teams were interested in Zardas. Green Bay, Carolina, Jacksonville, Miami, New Orleans, and Philadelphia were at the top of the list.
"I honestly thought it was going to be Green Bay or Carolina," said Zardas. "It's really very hard to figure because it all depends on who gets taken on the board, and what needs a particular team has left."
Prep coach Jim O'Leary has seen five of his former players make it to the NFL. Rob Konrad was drafted by Miami in the second round. Brian St. Pierre, (Pittsburgh and now backup quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals), Wayne Lucier (former Giant), and Jon Goff (starting linebacker for the Giants) were all draft picks.
Zardas was one of four UMass players to sign free agent contracts along with receivers Jeremy Horne (Chiefs) safety Jeromy Miles, and wide receiver Victor Cruz (Giants).
Philadelphia had an NFL high 13 picks, and used nine of them on the defensive side of the ball. Head coach Andy Reid's main objective was to get younger, faster, and deeper.
"I'll keep running, eating healthy, and stay in the best shape I can; from all I've heard it will be a pretty intense weekend," said Zardas.