The 2020 season brought plenty of challenges for the Michigan Wolverines’ offensive line. Opt-outs, injuries and the NFL Draft brought a variety of drama to a positional unit that had been steady for the previous two seasons. That gave opportunities for some younger players to take the field and get some playing time early in their careers.
The guy who made the most of those minutes was true freshman guard Zak Zinter. Let’s take a closer look at how he got here and the role he intends to play in 2021.
The story so far
The North Andover, Maryland product’s primary connection with the program was actually former defensive coordinator Don Brown. Ed Warriner was also a key role in his recruitment.
Zinter was a very bright high school student, something that is very common among the Wolverines’ offensive line. Michigan beat schools like Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Notre Dame and Duke for Zinter’s services.
It wasn’t all just top-tier academia that offered Zinter, but also some of the top football programs. Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Florida, Miami and others lost out to the Wolverines for the composite No. 265 player in the country.
At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, Zinter was brought in as a tackle from high school. Although, many believed he was destined to move to the interior due to a lack of lateral speed. Still, he caught the eye of the coaching staff from day one in Ann Arbor and was quickly in the second unit for the offensive line. He enrolled early and it wound up paying off.
To begin the season, Zinter was a depth piece who played on special teams. But after injuries to Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, Andrew Steuber was kicked out to tackle and Zinter was called to play right guard. He became the first true freshman to start on the offensive line since Ben Bredeson in 2016. He held the starting role through the final four games of the season.
Outlook for 2021
“Ryan Hayes, Zak Zinter, Andrew Stueber, they are guys that had that experience that are very good players, put an exclamation mark on that in the spring, I would call them three solid starters of the top five.” - Jim Harbaugh on the In The Trenches Podcast.
Zinter in his second season is earning the respect of some of the veteran players on the offensive line. He will be a starter this season for the Wolverines; Harbaugh went as far as to say in that interview with Jon Jansen that he would trust Zinter to play all five positions on the line. He also took snaps at center in spring camp, so he is a versatile player.
He came into Ann Arbor at 300 pounds, but Michigan’s spring roster listed him at 334. That is a testament to his work ethic and mentality, and is likely why he is sticking out as much as he has been.
Zinter had surgery to repair a torn UCL this offseason, which happened in practice before playing the full game against Penn State last year. He told reporters a few weeks back it was no longer causing any issues for him and he will be 100% prior to fall camp.
Zinter embodies everything you want in an offensive lineman. He’s smart, tough, and is working his butt off to help the Wolverines win in 2021. After a tumultuous 2020 season, he now has experience behind him that he is hoping will propel him even further this year:
“Getting in the games was huge. Just that experience is something you can’t really create other than playing in the game itself. The experience was incredible, and I think I’ve come a very long way from a year ago when I stepped on campus as an early enrollee.”