The Pitt football team ended the 2017 season with an impressive defeat of the 2nd ranked Miami Hurricanes. It was nothing short of a ‘coming out party’ for freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett established himself as the definitive starter heading into next season. His dramatic rise up the depth chart expedited the departure of two scholarship quarterbacks, Thomas MacVittie and Ben DiNucci, leaving Pitt with a significant depth issue. A pair of quarterbacks were added during the first national letter of intent day on Wednesday, December 30th: Kenny Towns and Nick Patti. To further establish depth and competition, the Pitt staff has added a quality preferred walk-on candidate, Tyler Zelinski (6-foot-4 inches, 200 pounds) of Erie Community College.
Zelinski threw for 1,756 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in nine games this year as a redshirt freshman. He’s originally from Medina, Ohio and was a standout performer at Medina Highlands High School in 2016. Tyler began his college career at Ashland University.
To gain perspective on Zelinski, Pittsburgh Sports Now reached out to Erie Community College Head Football Coach Scott Pilkey.
Provide Panther fans perspective on Tyler Zelinski. What are his strengths on the field?
“I think Tyler Zelinski is one of the guys that I’ve been blessed to be around most of my career. When I was at the University of Buffalo for nine years we helped recruit some great classes there. Guys like (Oakland Raiders) Khalil Mack and a lot of hidden talent, diamonds in the rough. When we had a chance to talk to Tyler, we were up in Western New York, not Erie, Pennsylvania, so a State University of New York College, at Erie County. Erie Community College is one of the top academic two year schools, in the country with football. So, we’re really proud of our State University of New York program and I think that was the first thing that brought us to Tyler. He was a full qualifier out of the state of Ohio and we typically recruit Western New York, Western Pennsylvania and Northeast Ohio
We started to correspond with Tyler when he was looking to transfer out of a Division Two situation he was in (Ashland University). Once we knew that we had an opportunity to talk to him after he was cleared to talk to us, it was instantly clear that he was a very, very smart, humble, and a faith based person. I felt at he showed a lot of good stuff after evaluating his high school film. He reads zone, he had a good pre-snap, post-snap pull, finding a guy out of faith down the field, looks like he made things happen with his feet and may not of been the smoothest character on the field at the time, but showed great potential and heart. I think that, especially the type of football that we play, when you only have them for two years or in our system we have them for two semesters. You know he came in here and competed in the spring and won the starting job in spring ball. He did a great job with our offense.
You know we were very young on defense this year, so we found ourselves playing from behind a bit. We run a ball control offense and we felt very good about Tyler being able to manage our offense. He knew when to get the ball to our tight end, hand the ball off when he’s supposed to and make the tough out calls. Well he turned out to be able to do that, and do it very well. We didn’t have the best season but we played against some of the top programs that were ranked in the top 15 or top 20 and he competed against some of the greatest competition that we had in the country and he competed hard. One thing Pitt fans should know, when Tyler doesn’t know something, he’s so smart, he learns it. You know, here’s a young guy that took enough AP (advanced placement) courses in his freshman year, to get a full Associates Degree and 4.24 grade point average in two semesters.
What’s Tyler like off the field?
Tyler is just a worker. He has great friends and he loves his family. He’s very humble. I don’t have anything negative to say about the kid. He did such a great job this year, one of our wide receivers is going to UNC Charlotte on a full scholarship and we have another two or three of our guys that have scholarship opportunities. Tyler did a lot for them and they did a lot for him.
Tyler is going through the acceptance process at Pitt right now, it should be, no issue at all. He had a really great visit there, he’s very excited. He’s got family that’s down from there. I believe it was his mother’s dream to go to Pitt. He’s from Ohio, he played at Highland High School, and he’s every bit of 6-foot-3 and a half inches, maybe pushing 6-foot-4 inches tall. He’s has a high character, a guy who comes in and grabs the football before practice. Tyler is the first one dressed and out on the field throwing balls, working on his craft. He’s the last one to leave when there’s a handful of wide receivers that were young that didn’t understand root concepts. He’s the guy that would be out there throwing the football until seven o’clock at night when the sun would go down.
He’s a high character guy, he’s not a back room talker, and he’s a yes sir, no sir type. He just wants his opportunity and he’ll compete his ass off to get that thing done. And I think that’s his greatest asset, is that if he’s not the smoothest guy in the world right now, he has a huge upside because of his size, because of his ability to compete and because he is surprisingly deceptive at his pocket presence. He stays in there and he takes a hit when he has to. Does he make every perfect read? No, he’s a young quarterback, but that’s what you want in development. Will he compete with everybody there? Hell yes. He will absolutely compete with everybody that they have there. He’ll take a shot and he’ll get back up. He’s a sturdy kid, and when he has to get the extra yard, he puts his head down and gets it. And I think when you look at the type of mentality that comes out of a blue collar, kind of like Pittsburgh and Buffalo, where he grew up, he grew up in the rough belt, and I think respectfully to our region, it develops hard-nosed people.
Tyler earns his opportunities. He was in the right place at the right time. I had a great phone call to your head football coach that prompted everything, a great conversation with (Pitt offensive coordinator) Shawn Watson, excellent people, and I was just thrilled. I spoke with (Tyler) and I said, hey, this is an opportunity to play at one of the top colleges in the country, your film is good, and you can be great. And that’s what he is right now. Is he great? No, he’s good. But his work ethic is great, his character is great, his leadership is great plus he never quits, there is no quit in this kid.
Reviewing Tyler’s film, he appears to have a very strong arm. It appears he can throw the deep ball. What’s your impressions of his arm strength?
He has a gun for an arm. I believe he’s only going to get better with the more certainty of where he knows he’s placing the ball you know, and that comes with learning the offense. Tyler has a really great football mind. He watches more film than anyone else which a key factor to being a successful quarterback. Arm strength is predicated on having certainty of where you’re placing the football. He’s made some throws on the run that were 45 to 50 yard passes. I think his arm strength is perfect for the ACC. He still needs further development but he’ll complete. I believe he can compete at that level. I really do.
Why wasn’t Tyler recruited by larger programs until now?
Well and you know one of the things we really pride ourselves on here and I really want to push our education is that you know we know that not everybody in the world can play Division 1 football. But I’ve been around it enough when I was at the University of Buffalo where we produce guys that you know, dozens of guys that had shots in the NFL and the CFL, these were under recruited, non-scholarship players, I made a living doing that. And that’s what we do here, you won’t find on our roster, guys that have four stars, five stars, because those guys don’t play football, those guys want to be recruited, those guys want to be four stars and five stars. It’s guys like Tyler Zelinski , that look beyond the stars and you got to look at the potential in the person and that’s what I was really impressed with when I talked to Coach Narduzzi and Coach Watson. Those guys are down to earth, straight forward. I really appreciate that because that’s the kind of program that we want to build
We got to get rid of this entitlement, you know where you got four or five star players. Who cares? Can they play ball? Will they show up to practice? Will he not touch your wallet in the locker room? Will he tell you if you lost your wallet? I mean, what type of character is going to represent your program? And Pitt has overcome so many things, the challenges this year and they showed heart, you know? I think that’s what’s great about college football. And we want to be part of that.
Harry Psaros can be found on Twitter at @PittGuru