July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

High school football: Diaz right at home on lanes, gridiron

Zak Diaz has manned seven positions for the Buckeye football team this season, but that’s nothing compared to the adjustments he makes on the bowling lanes.

Diaz, who will start at offensive tackle and defensive end when the Bucks (6-4) visit Clyde (9-1) in a Division III, Region 8 playoff game Friday at 7:30 p.m., routinely carts along four of his 13 bowling balls to high school matches.

After averaging 201 on the lanes as a junior, senior Zak Diaz is now bowling people over as a two-way lineman for the football team. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY AARON JOSEFCZYK)

“The only other person in my family who bowls is my grandfather,” said Diaz, who averaged 201 for the Bucks last season and qualified for the Warren District at Crest Lanes. “When I was about 8 years old, I bowled with him and thought, ‘Wow, this is fun.’

“From there, I just fell in love with it. It’s you on your own. When you do good, you know it’s because you did it, not because the entire team helped you achieve it.”

Do not misunderstand. The

5-foot-10, 205-pound Diaz, who carries a 4.3 grade-point average and scored a 24 on the ACT, is the ultimate team player on the gridiron.

The senior began this season playing linebacker and center for the Bucks, but the team really took off when he switched to defensive end and offensive tackle.

Diaz usually plays on the left side for Buckeye offensively, but has been known to switch to the right when the Bucks really want to go that way. The 18-year-old also long snaps on field goals and extra punts, and has handled snapping duties on punts on occasion.

“He understood the game so well,” first-year Buckeye coach Mark Pinzone said. “The kid just does everything and he does it willingly. He picks things up fast, which makes it nice for us coaches.”

Diaz, who is hoping to continue bowling at Toledo or Ohio State, uses his intelligence to function as a coach of sorts on the offensive line, which has grown increasingly better at opening holes for running back Cody Fortney and quarterback Christian Petek.

“He shows that academic intelligence on the field,” Pinzone said. “He’s a leader. He works hard every day and pushes the younger kids. He’s almost like a student assistant coach.

“He’s our best, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s no disrespect to any of our other offensive linemen. They’ve all done a great job, but he sees things. He watches film, listens to our coaches and picks up things and adjusts.

“When you watch him play a game and watch film the following Saturday, you can see he has vision when he’s pulling. He knows what to expect. It’s clear he’s very prepared.”

Defensively, Diaz uses his 4.98-second speed in the 40-yard dash and 320-pound squat to get into opposing backfields and disrupt plays. Though he still moves back and plays linebacker on occasion, he is second on the team with five tackles for loss and first with two sacks.

“At first, I was skeptical,” Diaz said. “I like standing up and seeing the playing field, but once I got used to reading offensive linemen, it was quite fun. I like it a lot more now. It’s more in the game. I feel like I can make better plays as a defensive end.

“I enjoyed (the move to offensive tackle) a lot more. At center, you snap the ball and the guy is right in front. I enjoy moving a lot more than just standing and blocking.”

As much as he enjoys football and is savoring the program’s first playoff berth since 2009, Diaz may feel even more at home on the bowling lanes.

Even during football season, he bowls in a Sunday afternoon league at Dick Hoover Lanes in Brunswick and owns a career-high 288 game and 756 series. During the summer, he bowled in a high school scholarship league at AMF Medina Lanes.

“He’s very dedicated,” Buckeye bowling coach Nancy Tinney said. “He loves bowling and he loves football. Those are the two sports he spends all his time on, but I think he loves bowling a little more than football.

“He’s very coachable. He’s got a great personality and he helps the other kids if they need it. He picks them up and tries to encourage them. He’s a very good leader.”

A third-year varsity player for the football team, Diaz fills the same role in that sport and helped the Bucks earn a three-way share of the Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division championship.

“Most people came into the season thinking we were going to do bad and not get too far,” Diaz said. “The coaches are really good. They know what they’re doing. They took what we had and put us in the right spots and we just started winning.”

The winning culminated in a playoff berth, which the Bucks are savoring while also hoping to accomplish more.

“At the beginning, we didn’t know how it was going to work out,” Diaz said. “There’s no words to describe it. This has been a great experience.”

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.