by Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff
Chris Zardas is a local kid from Wakefield, Mass. who had a very nice career as a fullback at the University of Massachusetts. He is hoping to get a chance to play in the NFL and has had a nice postseason with a good Pro Day performance, as well as a nice showing at the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game during which he scored a touchdown. He showed a lot of versatility in college as a blocker, receiver and running the ball and would seem to fit the Patriots use of fullbacks in that regard.
It’s a numbers game with a kid like Chris as the NFL limits the number of guys a team can take to camp. But his good showing, hard work and solid production during his college career may just get him the opportunity he needs. We had a chance to talk to Chris as he pursues his NFL career.
Hi Chris, can you tell us where you are from? How did you get into football? What age did you start playing?
I’m from Wakefield, Mass. I started playing football at the early age of 7. Since I can remember I had a football in my hands so going out for football the first year I was old enough was an easy decision. I played high school ball at St. John’s Prep in Danvers before attending UMass.
Did you play any other sports growing up?
I was always on the go growing up. I mainly played basketball, baseball and football but I also wrestled for a year or two. When I got to St. John’s I played baseball, basketball and football before switching from baseball to lacrosse my sophomore year. The only sport I never tried my hand in was hockey.
Who was your favorite team as a kid?
The Patriots were by far my favorite team growing up . It’s tough not to root for them being a Mass native.
How did you end up at UMass?
Mid-way through my senior season I suffered a minor knee injury, and that scared off all of my larger school offers. UMass stuck with me through it all and my style of play was a great fit in their offense. It was nice to stay in state so my family and friends could see me play often.
As a fullback what were your responsibilites on offense, did you go in motion at all? Were you used in blitz pickup? How about as a pass receiver?
As a fullback at UMass I was used a lot as a lead blocker but I also did a lot of one-back tailback on things such as pass protection, short yardage and third down situations . I would motion out to the slot or line up in a tightend-wing position also . I was very involved in the pass game weather it be running routes from the backfield, slot or tight end/wing positions or used in pass protection and blitz pick up.
Why type of offense did you run at UMass? Was the fullback on the field a lot?
We have a pro-style offense, based out of a two-back set. We use a heavy two-back run attack which sets up our play action pass game nicely. The fullback in our offense is on the field most of the game whether it be in the standard “I” formation or split out as a slot or wideout. It requires more athleticism than a traditional fullback in the sense that your running routs and blocking from any position on the field not just the backfield.
What did you do to prepare for your pro day?
Preparing for the proday was a long process. I started training the first week of January at Athletic Evolution in Woburn, Mass. We would train twice a day, five days a week, putting most of the emphasis on the combine drills in the first session, and more position specific and conditioning drills in the afternoon session.
I read you did well at your pro day, what was your 40 time?
Unofficially my 40 times at the pro day were 4.59 and 4.61.
You got to play in the Texas vs. The Nation Game this post-season? What was that experience like? I imagine there was a lot of talent there?
Playing in the Texas vs The Nation Game was awesome. Last year 111 of the 117 guys who played in the game signed NFL contracts, so there is a great amount of talent in the game every year. Coming from a smaller school it was a very good opportunity for me to show that I can play well against great competition. It was a very beneficial week for me to get the exposure I needed to show scouts I can play at the next level.
How did you hold up against the competition at that game?
I did very well that week. The fullbacks were in on every snap the whole week and they gave me a lot of opportunities to run and catch the ball. I got to showcase my athleticism every day during practice, and I had two catches and a touchdown during the game.
Have you ever done any kick returning or covering kicks on special teams?
Early in my career at UMass I was on the kickoff team as the wedge breaker and it was my favorite part of the game every week. I looked forward to hitting the wedge as hard as I could every time. My goal was to make a team stop running a wedge return after the first kickoff.
There were over 20 different teams at your Pro Day, did any seem particularly interested in you? Did you get a chance to talk to the Patriots at all?
I spoke with about half the teams there and they were very happy with how my workout went. I didn’t get a chance to talk to the Patriots that day but I spoke with them a few weeks before at the Boston College pro day.
You had some injuries to your shoulders and knee during your career, how is your health now?
Everything is 100% healthy now. I feel better than ever and am in great shape.
I read if football doesn’t work out, you’d like to join the Marine Corps, what lead you to that decision?
Well it’s nothing definite yet but its been something I’ve thought about all through college. I’m not the type that would be able to stay sane behind a desk all day, and I feel it would be a good way for me to do something productive for our country.
Thanks Chris, best of luck and we’ll be rooting for you to make it.
Reach Greg Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org