Zolak gets his start with New England Hapless, hurt Pats turn to ex-Terp

November 11, 1992|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

He comes from the same area as John Unitas, Joe Namath and Jim Kelly. His father coached Joe Montana in high school. He played at the same college as Boomer Esiason, Neil O'Donnell, Stan Gelbaugh and Frank Reich.

And now Scott Zolak, a second-year NFL quarterback from the University of Maryland, is getting his shot at the big time. Zolak is expected to start for the New England Patriots Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I've always had some great role models," said Zolak, who was the water boy for Montana and his father, Paul, at Ringgold High in Monogahela, Pa. "Western Pennsylvania has a proud tradition of turning out great quarterbacks.

"And I had some great quarterbacks to follow at Maryland, too. Now, of course, I would like to be as good as them and make a name for myself."

Zolak, 24, has been the personal project of New England coach Dick MacPherson.

MacPherson recruited Zolak out of high school when MacPherson was the head coach at Syracuse, and later, as a first-year coach at New England, drafted Zolak in the third round in 1991.

Zolak reported a week late for camp during his rookie year because of a contract dispute, and spent last season on the inactive roster.

At 6 foot 5 and 226 pounds, he challenged Hugh Millen and Tommy Hodson for the starting job during training camp, but ended up as the No. 3 quarterback. But two weeks ago Millen separated his shoulder and injured his knee and, just last week against the New Orleans Saints, Hodson fractured the thumb on his throwing hand and has been placed on injured reserve.

Zolak now becomes the starter.

"I'm a little excited because I've been looking forward to this for a long time," said Zolak last night. "When I was drafted, they [Patriots officials] said they were going to bring me along slowly, and they were -- until this point.

"We played the Colts in preseason so I already have a head start as far as studying film. The way I look at it, we're 0-9, and we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I might make some mistakes or I might just go out and light it up."

Zolak has never lacked confidence. He loves pranks, and his outgoing personality is the main reason he is the only Patriot player to have his own radio show, despite the fact that he's No. 3 quarterback.

During his senior year at Maryland, he completed 225 of 418 passes for 2,589 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was at his best in the closing minutes of games, three times rallying the Terps to victories.

Zolak guided the Terps to a 6-5-1 record and an appearance in the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl in 1990, Maryland's only winning season and bowl appearance since 1985.

"We have to assume Scotty is going to start," said Dante Scarnecchia, the special teams coach who is filling in for MacPherson, hospitalized for acute diverticulitis. "We'll see if Hugh can play.

"Given Hugh's shoulder, Scott Zolak gives us our best chance."

The team signed free-agent quarterback Jeff Carlson yesterday as its insurance policy. Carlson played with Tampa Bay and spent training camp this summer with the New York Giants after being drafted by the Los Angeles Rams on the fourth round in 1989.

Zolak will be the fourth Maryland quarterback to start for an NFL team this Sunday, along with Esiason (Cincinnati Bengals), O'Donnell (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Gelbaugh (Seattle Seahawks). Reich is Kelly's backup with Buffalo.

The man who coached all five, former Maryland coach Joe Krivak, called Zolak Monday night.

"He said you know what to do, you've been there before," said Zolak. "All five of us know he has been a big part of our success."

Quarterback U.

Former Terps who went on to play quarterback in the NFL or AFL:

Player .. .. .. .. .. .. Team .. .. .. Years

Bob Avellini .. .. .. .. Chi. .. .. .. '75-84

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. NYJ ... .. .. .. '84

Jim Corcoran .. .. .. .. Bos. .. .. .. .. '68

B. Esiason . .. .. .. .. Cin. .. .. .. . '84-

Stan Gelbaugh . .. .. .. Buff. . .. .. '86-89

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Pho. .. .. .. .. '91

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Sea. .. .. .. .. '92

Mark Manges ... .. .. .. St.L. . .. .. .. '78

Tommy Mont . .. .. .. .. Wash. . .. .. '47-49

Neil O'Donnell ... .. .. Pitt. . .. .. . '90-

Al Pastrana ... .. .. .. Den. .. .. .. '69-70

Frank Reich ... .. .. .. Buff. . .. .. . '85-

Jack Scarbath . .. .. .. Wash. . .. .. '53-54

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Pitt. . .. .. .. '56

Dick Shiner .. .. .. .. Wash. . .. .. '64-66

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Clev. . .. .. .. '67

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Pitt. . .. .. '68-69

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. NYG . . .. .. .. '70

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Atl. .. ... '71, '73

... .. .. .. .. .. .. .. N.E. .. .. .. '73-74

Scott Zolak ... .. .. .. N.E. .. .. .. . '91-

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