Seniors Kyle Zelinsky of Bartlett, left, and Jordan Nuekirch of Huntley are the honorary captains of the Daily Herald's 2008 All-Area football team.
Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer
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Listening to Bartlett middle linebacker Kyle Zelinsky play football was sometimes more fun than watching him.
For the last three seasons the sound has been the same: big hit after big hit, his shoulder pads crunching against a ball carrier's hips. It was the signature sound emanating from Millennium Field or wherever Zelinsky's Hawks happened to be playing on a given day.
His hitting became more effective as Zelinsky matured into a top overall tackler in 2008.
"When I was a sophomore I missed a lot of tackles because I was tackling really high," Zelinsky said. "Last year I started to get a little better. But once you perfect the art of tackling you can be an athlete-killer by tackling low, so that's what I did and it really helped."
If tackling is an art, Zelinsky was Bartlett's Rembrandt. In his senior season he led the defense with 84 solo tackles and 29 assists. He also made 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, tallied 3 sacks, forced 4 fumbles, recovered 1 fumble and made 1 interception.
Moreover, the three-year starter was a leader for a Bartlett team that set school records for victories (12), won an undefeated Upstate Eight Conference title and reached playoff quarterfinal and semifinal games for the first time in school history.
For his efforts Zelinsky was named the Upstate Eight Defensive MVP by league coaches, was selected to the Class 8A all-state team and has earned the co-captaincy of the 2008 Daily Herald Fox Valley all-area team.
Zelinsky, co-captain Jordan Neukirch of Huntley, the rest of the all-area team and the players of the week will be honored at the Daily Herald recognition banquet at Stonegate Conference and Banquet Centre on Sunday, Dec. 14 at 6 p.m.
Zelinsky is the fifth honorary captain to hail from Bartlett in the last eight seasons. He follows in the footsteps of current Bartlett assistant coach Eric Kramer (2001), Brad Podge (2002), Averill Sutchar (2003) and Kent Martin (2004).
Zelinsky has standing offers to play football at six universities: Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ball State, Akron and Air Force.
He is also still in weekly contact with Illinois and Michigan State, both of which have yet to decide if they will make an offer to another linebacker. Colorado and Oregon have also shown interest.
In the meantime, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior will begin taking official visits later this month.
"It's a matter of where I see myself fitting in most comfortably," Zelinsky said of his college choice. "I wouldn't mind redshirting a year to get on my feet at that level. But at the same time it would be cool to contribute at the end of next year."
Whichever program eventually gets Zelinsky will be getting a good student and a good student of the game. He holds a 3.9 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale, study habits he translated to success on the football field.
"The best thing I ever did was get one of those DVD burners with six decks," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "I'd give Kyle and the rest of the guys DVDs of the film of the next team we were playing on a Saturday and they'd come back on Monday saying, 'We should try this' or 'This might work.'
"Kyle really understood the game and understood what the other team was trying to do. He could recognize it immediately and make that first step in the right direction to stop it."
Zelinsky was clocked at a low 4.7 during a camp last summer, but his football instincts made him the best defender on the field.
"I've always known that I'm not going to go out there and run a 4.5 or a 4.6, but I have game speed," Zelinsky said. "If I see the ball, I can take angles and keep up with guys who straight away can outrun you. But if you take the right angles, you can keep up with any of those guys. Once I see the ball, I go full speed. Football is as much about vision as it is speed."
Zelinsky was at his best in Bartlett's biggest games.
In Week 6 against rival Neuqua Valley he made 11 tackles and forced 3 fumbles.
In Week 7 against undefeated Thornton he had 8 solo tackles, 3 assists and a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
In the Class 8A playoff opener against Niles Notre Dame he intercepted a pass made 3 tackles for loss and finished with 4 solo tackles and 4 assists.
But his biggest game of the season came against Schaumburg. The Bartlett defense was on the field for 46 plays in the second half as the Saxons rallied from a 28-point deficit by recovering 2 onside kicks. Zelinsky held the exhausted defense together as best he could with 14 solo tackles, 2 assists, a tackle for loss a sack and a pass breakup.
Though the Hawks were defeated in the semifinals by eventual state champion Maine South, 23-6, it was the lowest point total Vanderbilt-bound quarterback Charlie Goro and crew posted all season.
"None of my friends and teammates will say that we had our very best game, but we were able to step up in some situations and play well," Zelinsky said of his final high school game. "We had a good season, though. It could have only gotten a little bit better. It was awesome. We had some close games and a lot of great plays.
"It was just fun being at practice every day with all my buddies. Now that it's over we'll go our separate ways, but we'll still be a tight group."
No matter where Zelinsky plays in college, his buddies will be able to turn up the volume on the surround sound on their televisions and hear the familiar sound of their friend knocking pads on Saturday afternoons.
The Zelinsky File
Solo tackles: 84
Tackles for loss: 12
Forced fumbles: 4
Pass breakups: 4
Honors: Class 7A All-State
Captain's honor roll
1995 - Eric Miquelon (Larkin)
1996 - Vince Webber (Larkin)
1997 - Vince Webber (Larkin)
1998 - Matt Schabert (Larkin) and Kevin Kaplan (Cary-Grove)
1999 - Matt Schabert (Larkin), Travann Hayes (Larkin) and Clint Reames (Jacobs)
2000 - Dan Sheldon (Burlington Central) and Colin Williams (Elgin)
2001 - Brett Borchart (Huntley) and Eric Kramer (Bartlett)
2002 - Brad Podge (Bartlett) and Trent Steckel (Crystal Lake South)
2003 - Doug Sanders (St. Edward) and Averill Sutchar (Bartlett)
2004 - Kent Martin (Bartlett) and Brian Mitz (Cary-Grove)
2005 - Jake Goebbert (Hampshire) and Alex Kube (Cary-Grove)
2006 - Andrew Lorman (Cary-Grove) and Paul Duyckinck (Burlington Central)
2007 - Sam Campbell (Prairie Ridge) and Cam Kinley (Larkin)
2008 - Jordan Neukirch (Huntley) and Kyle Zelinsky (Bartlett)