Why doesn't Zane Dudek have major-college scholarship offers?
October 21, 2016 12:00 AM
Armstrong running back Zane Dudek is breaking WPIAL records. He is having one of the best seasons ever in Western Pennsylvania. But major colleges are not recruiting him.
Armstrong running back Zane Dudek stands with his offensive line.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
With each passing week, with every record that he breaks, Zane Dudek simply adds more to the great mystery of Western Pennsylvania high school football this fall.
It’s not a whodunnit. It’s more about who hasn’t done it. Why in the name of baffling recruiting stories has not one major-college football program offered Dudek a scholarship?
Dudek is a senior running back at Armstrong High School who is having a season like no running back in WPIAL history. Despite his lofty credentials, his gaudy rushing statistics, his records, his beating up on some tough competition from big schools, despite his championship-sprinter speed, his decent size, his grade-point average above 4.0, Dudek has been snubbed by big-time colleges.
Why, why, why? At first, Dudek will say the mystery doesn’t bother him. But it does. He is Zane, but he is trying not to turn inZane.
“It’s frustrating because, like, I don’t know,” said Dudek. “I thought I had done everything I could possibly do in my power to be recruited by Division I-A [FBS] colleges. I don’t know honestly. I just don’t know.”
But Zane’s world has company. Everyone from fans to opposing coaches also are miffed by Dudek’s lack of big-time offers. Albany, an Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) college, offered Dudek a scholarship last Saturday. Ivy League and Patriot League schools want him. But there are no scholarships from major colleges — and practically no interest, although Penn State has invited him to attend Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
Highly respected coaches in the WPIAL have trouble understanding.
“He’s top-level Division I, no question,” said Penn-Trafford coach John Ruane, who also used to be an assistant at Gateway. “I’ve seen a lot of guys not as good as him go to Pitt or Penn State from around here. … Of all the guys I’ve gone against as a coach, [Woodland Hills] Rob Gronkowski and [McKeesport’s] Khaleke Hudson are the two I’ve been impressed by the most. This kid’s right up there with them as a player.”
But to fully appreciate the story of Dudek’s recruiting snub, one needs to consider his credentials:
• He is averaging 307 yards rushing a game this season and has 2,461 on 238 carries. He should break the WPIAL single-season rushing record of 2,765 yards, set by Clairton’s Lamont Wade in 2014. Dudek is the fourth-leading rusher in WPIAL history with 6,483 yards and his 218 points ties for the WPIAL regular-season scoring record, set 68 years ago. He set a WPIAL single-game record with 492 yards.
Many WPIAL players have run for big yardage, but against Class 1A opponents. Armstrong, a merger of Ford City and Kittanning high schools, is in its second year and plays 5A.
• If it’s speed colleges are looking for, consider that Dudek won the WPIAL Class 3A 100-meter dash in the spring with a time of 10.88 seconds. At the same meet, Clairton’s Wade ran the 100 in 11.13 seconds and Beaver’s Darius Wise 10.99. Wade has scholarship offers from schools across the country for defensive back and Wise has a few FBS offers.
Dudek has run the 40-yard dash below 4.5 a few times and ran a 4.43 this summer.
• If it’s versatility and athletic ability colleges want, consider Dudek also is a standout defensive back. In the spring, Dudek ran track and also played outfielder on the Armstrong baseball team, and led the team in hitting.
• If it’s grades, consider Dudek has a 4.4 grade-point average.
“It is a little tough to figure out [Dudek’s recruitment] just from the fact of when you look at his measurables,” Armstrong coach Frank Fabian said.
Thomas Jefferson defeated Armstrong in the first round of last year’s WPIAL playoffs and Dudek had only 39 yards rushing. But Thomas Jefferson’s Bill Cherpak, one of the winningest coaches in WPIAL history, thinks highly of Dudek’s talents.
“There’s nothing the kid can’t do,” said Cherpak. “I think a lot of big schools should be drooling over him. How about the MAC [Mid-American Conference] schools? It’s amazing how close-minded some people are.”
Chris Eiswerth is the coach at South Williamsport High and said Dudek’s story sounds strikingly similar to that of Dominick Bragalone, who ran for 4,704 yards two seasons ago. It is the second-best single-season yardage total in U.S. high school football history. But Bragalone never got one major-college scholarship offer. Bragalone was 5-11, 210 pounds and showed lots of speed.
“[Dudek] is the same story,” said Eiswerth. “It was hard to figure out with Dom, too. Just nobody would offer him, but things have worked out for him.”
Bragalone is a sophomore at Lehigh (FCS school) and rushed for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman.
Joe Butler has run Metro Index Scouting service in Pittsburgh for more than three decades and said, “Am I surprised [Dudek] doesn’t have any offers yet from big schools? A little bit, just because he’s having such a great year and he’s productive against good teams. But I think after Thanksgiving when colleges can evaluate more thoroughly, those offers might come.”
When discussing Dudek’s recruiting, there is a subject that, rightly or wrongly, often gets brought up privately. There is a perception with fans and even high school coaches that there is a bias against white halfbacks in major-college recruiting. Whether that bias exists or not, the perception is there.
"College coaches are like anybody. They don't want to get fired," Butler said. "They are looking to win football games. I don't think [race] is a factor in this."
Dudek did not want to comment on the matter, other than to say he wonders about it. A handful of high school coaches contacted for this story did not want to comment on the record but said they believe there is definitely a bias against white running backs in recruiting.
“Is it one of those things that’s done deliberately? Probably not,” said Cherpak. “But I can tell you that there have been times that a college coach has called me over the years to ask about a player and one of the questions they ask is, ‘What color is he?’ So what does that tell you?
“The thing is, and I tell our players this, that it will take only one college coach to fall in love with you and offer. Do I think it will happen with Dudek? I think somebody has to notice the amazing things he’s doing.”
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