Chandler breaks WPIAL record

Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

When Avonworth quarterback Zach Chandler took to the field with his teammates last Friday in the regular season finale for both his team, as well as for rival Northgate, he knew he had a chance to break the WPIAL single-season mark for yards passing. All he needed were 308 yards, and because he had been averaging 311 per game, it was almost a given.

And so it came as no surprise when he finished with 365, throwing for four touchdowns and running for 140 yards, which produced three more touchdowns, leading his team to a 50-49 win.

But setting records wasn't on his mind.

"I didn't really care," Zach said. "I just wanted us to win the game. If breaking a record was going to happen, it would happen."

It happened at some point in the fourth quarter. Nobody seems to be able to pinpoint the exact play, especially Zach. One of the first to congratulate him was Seton-LaSalle's Bruce Gradkowski, who has held the record since 2000. He tweeted, "Congratulations to quarterback Zach for breaking my season record. I love seeing good, young quarterbacks."

The accomplishment stands as a highlight in the game he started playing at age 5, usually at center, before moving to quarterback around age 9, growing to love the game and growing in stature as well, currently checking in at 6' 4", 230 lbs.

But Zach has had some bumps in the road leading to this year's level of play. A broken collarbone in his sophomore year and a broken leg in his junior year forced him to watch the games from the sidelines. He never gave up, though, learning an important lesson from his tough times. "It taught me never to take anything for granted," he said.

And he has learned from others, as well. He names Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers as his favorite quarterback. "He has great attitude on the field. He always shows that he really wants to win."

A few of Zach's fellow players have some good things to say of him, as well.

Senior wide receiver Cole Jenkins: "He is absolutely amazing. It's astonishing what he has been able to accomplish. To go through the adversity of his first few years of high school football and now to accomplish this feat is amazing. He is capable of absolutely anything, and I am privileged to be one of his receivers."

Senior wide receiver Kurt Niklaus: "Zach is an outstanding player who gives it his all in every game. On the field, he's a leader who motivates us to give it our all. I'm glad I have the opportunity to be one of his receivers."

Junior wide receiver Garret Day: "Zach is the ultimate leader. The way he represents himself on and off the field is admirable. He is a great kid on the field, and outside of football, he doesn't get arrogant. And he sure can throw the ball like no one else. Being a receiver of his is a privilege, for he makes our lives a whole lot easier."

The compliments from fellow players are sincere, possibly because of some of the traits that Zach has picked up from Rivers. "The game teaches players how to work together with people on the team," Zach said. "It's not about yourself. It's about the guys to the left and the right of you. You learn never to be selfish."

He has not had any college offers, to-date, despite his athletic record and his 3.4 academic average, factors that led to his being named an Esmark Award winner, a recognition given to high school athletes who also have good academic records. He hopes to continue with the game, and he also hopes to attend the University of Pittsburgh to study some aspect of medicine, perhaps becoming a physician assistant or a physical therapist.

Coach Duke Johncour summed up his QB, both as a person and as a player. "Zach played an unbelievable game and led his team the whole game. He wanted the ball in his hands at the end of the game, and he delivered. He continues to remain humble amidst all of the awards."