Preston Zandier takes TJ championship memories to Youngstown State

Sunday, August 15, 2021 | 10:01 AM

Alphabetically, Preston Zandier normally is listed last because of his last name.

When it comes to sports, Zandier is at the top of the list.

The 2021 Thomas Jefferson graduate competed in football, basketball and baseball in all four years of high school, starting at the varsity level for three seasons in football and baseball.

It is on the gridiron that he’s made his mark.

“Playing sports at TJ was the best part of my life so far,” Zandier said. “Trips to Myrtle Beach for baseball, Deep Creek trips for basketball and 7-on-7 trips for football are definitely the most memorable times. Also, staying over (in Hershey) after the state championship win my junior year was a blast.

“Playing sports was the best part of high school, and being as successful in winning three WPIAL and two state (state) championships is mind blowing to me. I know every kid dreams of that, and I’m really thankful for that.

“Coaches (Bill) Cherpak, (Dom) DeCicco and (Tim) Vickers, and all the assistant coaches, made the sports I played something I’ll never forget.”

Zandier has a strong family legacy in football. His brother, TJ grad Zane Zandier, was an all-conference senior linebacker at Virginia in 2020.

His dad Rick was a safety at IUP and two uncles, Michael Reinhart and Todd Fedak, played at Cal (Pa.) and Carnegie-Mellon, respectively. Zandier’s dad and Reinhart are Brentwood products; Fedak hails from South Park.

A 6-foot-2, 210-pound wide receiver/linebacker, Zandier finished his career with 76 receptions, 1,246 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also was a terror on defense, racking up 78 total tackles the past two seasons.

He was named to the Class 4A all-state team in 2020, as well as the Trib 25 all-star team.

The son of Rick and Ria, Zander also has two sisters, Remy and Reis, who played volleyball at Youngstown State from 2016-18.

“Preston and his entire family have had an immense impact on sports at Thomas Jefferson,” Cherpak said. “They are just a great family with down-to-earth parents who instilled a great work ethic in all their kids.

“Preston excelled in all three sports without sacrificing his opportunity to earn a football scholarship. More kids should follow his lead. He is an incredible young man and a great role model for the younger kids.”

Zandier ranked third among WPIAL receivers last season with 47 catches for 718 yards and 12 scores.

He also had 34 tackles on defense, including eight (with four for a loss) against Jersey Shore in the PIAA Class 4A championship game. TJ defeated the District 4 titlists, 21-14, on Nov. 28 at Hersheypark Stadium.

“From (possibly) having no season to back-to-back state champions, it was a wild ride,” Cherpak said. “The kids were great with all the distractions and precautions we needed to implement. They did what was asked of them to make it work. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The coronavirus pandemic made the 2020 football season unlike any other. Nonetheless, the Jaguars were able to secure their 10th WPIAL title and record-setting fifth PIAA championship.

“This year was crazy,” Zandier said. “There were so many obstacles our team faced with covid and having so many new guys stepping into key roles. We battled to find ways to win any way possible.

“Being able to experience three WPIAL and two state championships in my TJ football career is something very few athletes get to experience, and I’m so happy I was a part of it. Playing TJ football has been a huge part of my life, and I’m extremely grateful for it. Countless memories and meeting my closest friends in the process is something not a lot of kids get to experience. It has given me debt-free college and showed me what it takes to be mentally and physically unbeatable.”

Last season, Zandier and senior teammate Ian Hansen (42-785, 7 TDs) proved near-unstoppable at the wide receiver position, combining for 1,503 yards and 19 scores on 89 receptions. Hansen averaged 18.7 yards per catch; Zandier averaged 15.3. Both were named first-team all-conference on offense and defense.

Zandier, a Youngstown State recruit, joined an exclusive club following the season. He was the 20th athlete at TJ — and 15th since the turn of the century — selected to play in the Big 33 Football Classic.

That select club consists of: Tom Jenkins (Colorado State), Lou Cecconi (Pitt), John Harchar (Notre Dame), Jim Giansante (Cal U), Gary Yogan (Lafayette), Tyler Reed (Penn State), Brad Dawson (Indiana, Pa.), Nate Nix (Ptt), Dom DeCicco (Pitt), Chris Drager (Virginia Tech), Lucas Nix (Pitt), Brock DeCicco (Pitt), Mike Wainauskis (Slippery Rock), Cole Costy (Youngstown State), Chase Winovich (Michigan), Noah Palmer (Pitt), Devin Danielson (Pitt), Dom Serapiglia (Tulsa), Logan Danielson (Indiana, Pa.), Mac Duda (Princeton) and Zandier.

“It was really cool playing with and against the best talent in Pennsylvania and Maryland,” Zandier said. “Getting a chance to compete with the top players in Pennsylvania is something I never thought would happen and I’m truly blessed.”

Zandier was one of two players labeled as “athletes” on the Pennsylvania squad. He recorded a couple of tackles and a fumble recovery in the game.

“It is a great honor to be selected for such a prestigious game,” Cherpak said. “I played in the game in 1985 and still have great memories from it.

“Preston has worked hard to earn all of his accolades and accomplishments. He has been a leader and great role model for our younger players. In his four seasons at TJ, he was part of three WPIAL championships and two state championships and a record of 51-4. I would say that is a pretty good high school career.”

Zandier, one of 19 WPIAL players named to participate in this year’s Big 33 game, was recruited to play an outside linebacker position at Youngstown State, where he will major in industrial engineering.

He got an early start to his college career by relocating to the campus this summer.

“I recently moved into my YSU dorm and started workouts, and I’m really excited about it,” Zandier said. “I’m excited for the new culture at YSU with the new coaches, and being able to focus on one side of the ball. I’m not ready to give the sport up yet, so being able to play for another four or five years is a blessing.”

Zandier manned an OLB spot at for the Jaguars for three years before stepping in at inside linebacker for his senior season.

“He will fit in great at YSU,” Cherpak said. “I know he will continue to work hard and be successful. I am very proud of him and excited to watch him continue his football career at Youngstown State.”

Zandier, a rugged forward who missed part of the 2020-21 basketball season with an injury, played center field on TJ’s baseball squad. He was a first-team all-section selection in the Class 5A Big 56 Conference.

“My season went well,” Zandier said. “I hit the baseball pretty well and tried my best to help the team win.

“I loved high school baseball. It was a nice break from the fast-paced football and basketball practices and games.”

Zandier’s football career is only going to be more fast-paced in the days ahead.


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