19 Sep 2020

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Prospect Interview: IOL Zach Sammartino, Dartmouth

Zach Sammartino reached out to me about a week ago with an eight-minute highlight video with a message asking me to “check it out and let me know what you think! It’s eight minutes of nothing but pancakes. It’ll be the highlight of your day, I promise.” 

I had just scouted Jordan Mack, the linebacker out of Virginia that day, and I was at that moment in time thinking that he was going to be pretty hard to top. I also receive many messages from players I’ve never heard of asking me to check out their tape and give them a chance. 

In the first few plays of Zach’s highlight tape, I was very intrigued. He was a mauler, somebody that really showed excellent strength and power. I ended up watching the entire video and by the end, I was taking notes of what I wanted to look for when I turned on his game tape and started charting reps. 

I published his scouting report the next day and reached out to Zach about doing an interview for the website. He agreed, and we sat down to talk on the afternoon of February 20th. 

Prospect Interview: IOL Zach Sammartino, Dartmouth

Draft Rite (John Vogel): Tell me a little bit about your experience at Dartmouth and what it was like playing there. How did you get there? Tell me about the coaching staff and the players and whatever else you want to throw out there about them.

Zach Sammartino: Yeah, for sure. So, I didn’t start playing football until about ninth grade actually. I was kind of playing basketball when I realized that I was a big person and my whole family, my dad and my uncle, both played football in college too, and so I always was a huge football fan growing up. So, I started playing football in ninth grade, started learning the game and figuring it out, and didn’t actually become good at it until my junior year. I was a late bloomer actually. I didn’t get my first college offer until the Friday of my first game of my senior year and it ended up being from Dartmouth.

Throughout the course of that entire season year, I played really well. I started on both offense and defense. All-Conference. Finished with about fifteen or sixteen division one offers. I had a couple of FBS offers, a couple of MAC offers. I talked a lot with Cincinnati. At first, I was really torn at where I wanted to go to school. I knew if I wanted to go for FCS, I had offers from JMU, they were pretty big on me, a couple of MAC schools, Eastern Michigan, and I had a couple Ivy schools, Dartmouth and Cornell. At the time, Dartmouth was just starting to play good football again. In the 2000’s they were honestly pretty much the worst team in the Ivy league between 2000 and 2013. I remember one day just getting the offer from their coach and they made me take my ACT’s again just to get my scores up to help them out with the recruiting bans with the way it works up there.

Going to Dartmouth

I remember talking to my parents telling them “yeah, I’m never going to an Ivy League school. Like, I can’t do that. That’s just not me,” and I ended up going there after that. I remember my dad distinctly telling me that “it’s funny how God works. Just do it to keep them happy and see what happens.” Five years later, I loved it.

I ended up going to Dartmouth because of the coaching staff. The head coach came to my high school, coach Teevins, he’s been around everywhere. He played at Dartmouth, he was a Bushnell Cup, like a conference MVP winner back in 1979. He was the head coach for a little bit at Stanford, Tulane. He coached down there with Steve Spurrier at Florida, he was the offensive coordinator down there. Then, he came back to Dartmouth. So he came to my high school my senior year and we talked for about an hour and a half in the athletic office. He actually didn’t talk about football at all. He didn’t care at all about football. We talked about me, my family life, my interests and everything like that. It was just a different aspect from him where you knew that football was important, they were finally turning the program around, and at the same time, he cared about us as individuals. I know that there have been guys in the past that have made it to the NFL from Dartmouth. I’ve had a few buddies play several years. A buddy of mine currently plays for the Panthers on the active roster. So, I knew if I was going I could definitely go to the NFL from Dartmouth, and also having that Ivy league degree was something that not a lot of people can say that they have.

Draft Rite: Yeah, there’s not many people that can brag about that. You’re right.

Sammartino: Right, so it was the best of both worlds. I got to play division one football and I got the degree which was important to get at the time too. It turned out really well from my time up there. My offensive line coach is from Pittsburgh too, he went to the high school about twenty minutes from my house. Really good guy overall. I enjoyed it a lot and I just knew that it was good – going to play football under him – and five years later it just worked out.

So, I redshirted my sophomore year. I had shoulder surgery to fix my labrum. But in the four years, I was healthy, our record was, ah… (Paused to think) 34-6 in those four years I was healthy. So we had a really good run of it, I got two Ivy league rings and this past year I was All-Ivy league, I had the most votes out of any lineman in the conference, as well as first-team All-New England with all of the FBS and FCS schools in that area, a lot of Patriot League schools, NAC, a little bit of Ivy League, and then Boston College, UMass, and UConn.

Talking about Zach Sammartino’s strengths

Draft Rite: Yeah, man, when I watch you, I think you have incredible strength.

Sammartino: Yeah, I would say that strength is probably my biggest factor. I’m pretty strong.

Draft Rite: Yeah, I think you are an incredible run blocker, a mauler type, you know? I see a lot of, I don’t want to say you put more effort into run, but it definitely pops more when you’re run blocking than anything else. So you just mentioned you think that’s your biggest strength, what do you think your biggest strength is outside of plain, brute force?

Sammartino: I think I’m just a smart player. There’s a lot of plays on my tape where we studied the player a few times. Like, in my Penn game, I was playing against an All-Ivy League d-tackle who will probably play somewhere next year. There were a couple little keys, based on his alignment, he’d only have his left hand down, if he was in a two-I when he would slant into the B-Gap so you kinda knew where he was going. Being my biggest strength is just to be able to pick up on small features, small tells in the defensive line has, and so I think whenever I know what the defensive line is doing, mixed with my strength, it works out really well for me in the end.

Draft Rite: Awesome. What game was that? You’re going to make me go back and look at it.

Sammartino: That was our (pause) third week for us, which I think was week five or six for the rest of college football.

Draft Rite: Okay. You’re third game senior year?

Sammartino: Yeah this past year.

Draft Rite: Okay.

Sammartino: It was one of my better games for sure.

Self-reflection: What is your biggest weakness?

Draft Rite: What do you think is your biggest weakness?

Sammartino: I wasn’t 100% sure coming out of this season heading down to Texas. I kind of learned that the way my offensive line coach taught us for pass setting is a little bit different then what is going to be needed for the next level. Because we were a spread team but we ran the ball about 70% of the time, honestly. Especially two years ago, we had five seniors on the offensive line. So we are really a run-heavy team, we do a lot of power and a lot of outside zone. So whenever we would pass it, we would have very aggressive pass sets, and also being as strong as I was, in the Ivy League there weren’t many guys who really tested me with a straight bull rush or really testing me in pass protection. When I went down to Texas, I got coached up that I was setting way too flat and aggressively. I think my pass set is just working on getting back and getting a little bit of depth first. That’s what I’m trying to work on the most right now and getting the punch going a little bit.

Draft Rite: You totally just answered my next question so that’s perfect. I was going to bring up that your pass protection is something that you do struggle with, but that explains a lot right there.

Sammartino: Yeah so we completely different. We were taught this past season or so. Two years ago, which was my true senior year, when we ran the ball a lot more, we weren’t quite as aggressive in our pass sets though. But then this past year he changed up our technique that he taught us. My offensive line coach is friends with a guy, I forget his name, he’s a coach in the NFL for the Bengals. He coached for like thirty years before he retired. We called it up-kick where our first set was…

Draft Rite: Wait, wait, was he just with the Bengals or is he the guy who retired last year?

Sammartino: He’s retired now. I think his last name is McNally or something like that. Sounds like an Irish name.

Draft Rite: Yeah, cause I think he retired last year, I mean before the start of the season, and Clint Bohling retired shortly thereafter he did.

Sammartino: Got it. I knew he was a smaller guy. He played football for the University of Buffalo when they were D-III, I know.

Draft Rite: I didn’t mean to interrupt you, I’m sorry. I was like, wait a second, connecting, you know?

Sammartino: No, no, you’re good. So yeah, during camp my coach would be watching film at night and my coach would call this guy up and they would just talk pass sets. This is one of those things that we would jump-set for the whole pass offensive line using this thing called an up-kick, where it’s pretty much where you get on the guy right away to stop any momentum at all. It worked for me really well. Again, I was just so much stronger that when I got my hands on the guys in the Ivy league I would just stop them at the line. Like I said, I never actually allowed a sack during my college career. I think that was a big testament to it, so. That’s just something that I’m trying to break that habit a little bit. It’s kinda good to jump-set every now and then, but you can’t do it as consistently as I did and be as successful at the next level. 

Draft Rite: Yeah, there’s a couple of teams that I’ve noticed that do that. I think the Titans for one, but they’re more of a zone power scheme and I think that they like to do that to make it look like it’s going to be a run to help sell that play-action to Derrick Henry. 

Sammartino: Right, exactly. 

Second-level work

Draft Rite: So, are you comfortable working to the second level? You know, with some blocks and impacting? So let’s say that you make an impact block on a defensive lineman on a run play, and then you’re moving up to that second level and there’s a linebacker. Is that something that you feel like you can do at the next level? 

Sammartino: I do, I feel pretty confident that I know in my tape that there’s several times that I do that pretty easily. I know a lot of times, at least in Ivy league, the players weren’t as talented or as smart, so I know that sometimes the linebackers weren’t are actually top of the wash, but our offensive line coach always stressed that if you moved the down lineman four yards back into the second level that the linebacker can’t make the play anyway. So that was something that we kind of focused on more on the down linemen, but there were several times for sure I know, just on my tape alone, where I can point to, where I came out and got onto the second level. I know at least one time against Colgate I pancaked the linebacker twenty yards outside of the hashmark. There was one I know for sure against Columbia where I was in the double team and I just kind of threw a shoulder at him and pancaked him through that. So I am more than comfortable working up to the second level. 

Draft Rite: That video that you sent me was a lot of fun to watch, by the way. 

Sammartino: Thank you, I appreciate that. 

Draft Rite: No, like, because you just have so much fun when you’re doing it, man. When you just knock somebody flat on their back and you just kind of… I see it, you kind of feel it a little bit. I’m not nearly as big as you are, so I don’t have nearly as much experience as you doing that. But, it was fun to watch, and I appreciated you sending that over. 

Sammartino: Thank you, for sure, for sure. 

Zach on the College Gridiron Showcase

Draft Rite: The last thing I wanted to ask you about was the College Gridiron Showcase. It was really a great help in my evaluation of you because from my aspect, from what I have access to, there’s not much tape on you at all. And so, being able to kind of pull that up, and see you and watch you in a one-v-one rep, and then the scrimmages as well, really told me a lot about where you were at that point in January. So, tell me a little bit about your experience there. How did you get into it and, you know, how was the event? 

Sammartino: It was a great experience overall. It was definitely great to get out there with that many scouts. It was funny, I actually ended up almost not going. So, like, I got invited to the main College Gridiron Showcase in, like, September or October, when the invites first went out. I asked my pro liaison and he said if you have to pay for a game, it’s not worth it, don’t go. So, I actually turned them down. After the season ended and I started reaching out and talking to agents where I ended up signing, every single agent that I talked to was basically like “What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you say no? Like, you need to go to that.” And so, I talked to my parents about it and called up the guy who sent me the invite, Mike Riddleman, he’s actually from Pittsburgh as well. 

Draft Rite: I know Mike a little bit from Twitter. Yeah (laughs). 

Sammartino: Yeah, so he’s from Pittsburgh as well. He coached at my rival high school. I was literally just like, “Hey, I think I got fed some bad information, I really apologize. I know it’s really late now, your invites are probably already out, if there is any way that I can get into this game I really appreciate it.” So this was, ah, in December, like early-to-mid December. The game was in January. So I was literally giving him no notice. They were full for the main showcase, but what he said he could do was he could get me into the small school showcase and then from the small school showcase they pick, like, ten or so guys to move up to the main one. He told me “the best that I can do is get you into that and you can play your way up for the scouts to take notice, they might want you to go into the main one and that will help you out there.” So I accepted that offer and went down there and had a great time for the two days in the small school showcase, played well enough for all of the scouts to take notice and want me in the main one, and I think once I got to the main one, it went really well for me there. I enjoyed it a lot down there. It was good to get against some bigger, better competition.

So in the main showcase, the scouts actually had me only playing center the whole time, which was a switch up from college. They wanted to see if I was capable of doing that. 

Draft Rite: I noticed that. Because I was thinking that you would be a really good right guard somewhere. I think I put it in my scouting report of you when I filed it. I think you’re a developmental, at this point of your career, very high upside right guard. Preferably in a power-zone scheme.

Sammartino: Correct.

Draft Rite: So I did notice that you were playing center, and I was like, that’s interesting. Because I was watching you, and it was Zach Larsen, wasn’t it? 

Sammartino: Mmhm. The kid from Southern Utah. 

Draft Rite: Yeah, I got in contact with him too. Are you guys friends? (Laughs)

Sammartino: I just met him in Texas. I never knew who he was before that. But he’s a good guy. Yeah, no, my sophomore year, when I was redshirting, my offensive line coach told me “hey, you should learn to snap the ball.” So, I learned to snap it a little bit in high school going into college, but nothing to feel confident playing center, and so sophomore year I learned how to snap and then my true senior year, when I was playing right guard, I was also our backup center. So we would have just moved lines around if our center ever got hurt. So I probably took twenty or thirty snaps at center my college career. Nothing crazy, but just enough where I was still able to play and then all the scouts down in Texas were like, “This is an Ivy league kid. He needs to be able to play center too.” So the whole last three days of the showcase, I was playing center exclusively. I feel just as confident in my ability to play center as I do at guard at this point. 

Draft Rite: I’ll tell you what was funny is putting on your tape, I immediately looked to watch you at center. And then I had to realize, like, “wait, no, he’s still playing guard.” (laughs). 

Sammartino: Yeah, for sure. 

Draft Rite: Anyways, hey Zach, thanks for taking the time to chat with me and do this interview. 

Sammartino: Awesome, thank you. I appreciate that so much. 

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