COAL TOWNSHIP — When Shamokin seniors Blake Zalar and Nate Miller signed with Rutgers and Colgate football, respectively, on Wednesday, they couldn’t have been entering more opposite situations.
Rutgers, which went 1-11 last season, has experienced growing pains since joining the Big Ten in 2014 and is fighting to turn the program around while Colgate is coming off an undefeated Patriot League title and trip to the Division-I FCS playoffs.
Both are excited for the opportunity that both situations provide.
Zalar, a 6-3, 270-pound lineman, signed with the Scarlet Knights and is expecting to be utilized as a center.
“I know what it takes to turn around a program,” he said, referencing his time with Shamokin. “I’m going to do everything that it takes to do it there, just like I did at Shamokin. And really, from what I can tell, it’s already happening there. The kids are working so hard and you can tell they have bought into what the coaching staff is working on.”
Miller, a 6-2, 195 pounder, got interest from Colgate as a linebacker and is looking forward to competing for playing time on a team that has proven its success.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity,” Miller said. “Motivation won’t be a problem. The more I play, the more money I will receive for scholarships and that’s huge. On top of that, I want to prove myself and make everyone back here proud.”
Miller said he chose Colgate for the academic opportunities it provides.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to a school like that and I wouldn’t be able to do it without football,” he said, adding that he plans to pursue a career in dentistry and has yet to declare a major.
Zalar, on the other hand, will be working towards a business degree at the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school.
“Rutgers had the best location out of every school that recruited me,” he said. “I’m right in the backyard of NYC and the backyard of Philly.”
He also was impressed by the support system Rutgers has built for football players, which he said aside from financial support was his biggest criteria for choosing a school.
“I’m going to have academic advisers and tutors and the school just spent $2.1 million on a new weight room with several full-time trainers on the staff,” he explained. “They’ve built a whole new locker room — the program, facility wise, is on the up-and-up and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Miller gave similar praise to the network at Colgate.
“They have a very good academic counselor for all of the football players who helps with class selection and what year to take different classes,” he said. “I was impressed with their weight training program, too. Their lifting coach was at Alabama back in the ‘90s and he seemed like a good guy. They’re going to start sending me to workouts soon so I’ll get to experience it.”
The Shamokin Area senior got some praise from his new head coach, Colgate’s Dan Hunt, on a signing day video produced by the Raiders’ athletic department.
Hunt said of Miller, “He’s a coal region kid from Pa. — when you think of the coal region of Pennsylvania, you think about a kid who plays like (him).”
He continued, “He’s versatile. You can see he’s a physical inside linebacker but if we had to move him to outside linebacker we could. ... He loves the game and loves the process. We were real impressed with him and his family and we’re real happy to have him. He shores up the linebacker class.”
Zalar, who has had an action-packed senior year in terms of recruiting interest after making big gains in the weight room, said the path to Wednesday’s signing was an unforgettable experience.
“It’s been unreal, to say the least,” he explained. “I’ve met a bunch of new people and rubbed shoulders with people at the top of the coaching chain of college football and met a bunch of people in the Patriot League and Ivy League. To be around guys like that makes you want to be a part of the programs. Rutgers is what I want in a school and that’s why I’ll be going.”
Miller is continuing the family tradition by signing with Colgate and joins his two older brothers, Josiah (Layfayette, sr.) and Aaron (Loyola, fr.), as a Patriot League football player.
“I did rely on (my parents advice) a lot with choosing a school,” he said. “My dad has a lot of experience (with the recruiting process) so it wasn’t the first rodeo. I listened to their advice and we all thought Colgate was a good choice.”