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High school football top five countdown: No. 4 Courtland.
Cougars QB Nick Zaluzney threw for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs last year. He hopes to better those stats this season.
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/22/2011
Life can be a little intimidating at times. So can being the starting quarterback for a high school football team that is used to winning.
Courtland senior Nick Zaluzney found that out very early last year. After backing up graduated starter Ryan McBroom for a season, he was thrust into the starting role in 2010.
It was an opportunity he had been looking forward to for a long time--the chance to lead one of the area's most storied programs to another championship. But a 49-20 drubbing by Massaponax in their opener left Zaluzney and the Cougars reeling.
The one-sided loss was the beginning of a painful four-game losing skid, but one that eventually turned out to be a rallying point.
Courtland posted victories in its final eight games, captured the Battlefield District title and advanced to the Group AA Division 4 state semifinals before losing to Briar Woods.
The growing process, especially those first four games, is something that Zaluzney and his teammates will not forget.
"Personally, I was just way too nervous," Zaluzney said. "It took a while for me to realize that I just needed to get set in the pocket and get used to the speed of the game."
Cougars coach J.C. Hall saw the nervousness that Zaluzney was dealing with, but never lost faith in his new starter. As Zaluzney got better at making decisions, the rest of the team followed his lead.
"It was a tough time for him," Hall said. "He made some bad decisions early, but he gradually got better and more confident. Once he got in his groove, we got better, too, and started winning."
After the shaky start, Zaluzney ended the season with nearly 1,400 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and a spot on the all-district second team.
With a strong nucleus that includes seven starters back on both sides of the line, Hall believes Zaluzney and the Cougars are ready for another big year. So does The Free Lance-Star, which is ranking them No. 4 in its preseason power poll.
"Each team takes on a different personality," Hall said. "We've got some new pieces and we hope they gel. Right now, we're feeling good about a lot of things."
Early results support his optimism. In Courtland's two preseason scrimmages, Zaluzney connected for three scoring passes and showed the benefits of a year's experience under his belt.
PRESEASON TOP FIVE
This week, The Free
Yesterday: No. 5 MassaponaxToday: No. 4 Courtland
Tomorrow: No. 3
Wednesday: No. 2
Thursday: No. 1