Located roughly 25 miles north of downtown Cincinnati, the city of Fairfield is home to one of the largest districts in the state of Ohio, averaging over 2,000 students per year at the senior high school.
Many of those students are involved in the school’s 15 different athletic programs, ranging from bowling to lacrosse. That includes junior Zack Waddell, a starting safety and long snapper for the football team, which is coming off an 8-3 season that was highlighted by an appearance in the OHSAA Playoffs.
“My junior season was definitely one to remember,” Waddell told AAC Football Fever. “There were some ups and downs throughout the year, but I believe I improved greatly as a player and a teammate.”
Fairfield was hot out the gates, starting 2015 with a 4-0 record while reaching as high as No. 3 in the state power rankings. However, after suffering several key injuries in the heart of conference play — the Indians compete in the rigorous Greater Miami Conference, one of Ohio’s most competitive Division 1 leagues — they were unable to capitalize on a top seed in the playoffs, drawing perennial powerhouse Cincinnati Elder in the first round.
FHS lost, 50-42, but that didn’t keep Waddell from keeping a positive attitude moving forward into the offseason.
“With the adversity we went through this season, I couldn’t be more proud of my team,” he said. “There wasn’t one game this season we had all 22 of our initial starters. We had several linemen out at different times, we lost our quarterback for five games, and at one point had none of the original four starting DB’s out for a game – including myself. However, we played through it and had a pretty successful season. I can only imagine how the season would have went without those injuries.
“I have a lot of respect for my coaches,” he said. “They do a great job of getting the most out of us and I really look forward to learning as much as I can from them my senior season.”
Now a rising senior, Waddell has switched his focus to recruiting. He has mainly received small interest from some lower level Group of Five programs and FCS Liberty up to this date and is without his first offer, but is hoping a productive offseason and some hard looks at his highlight tape will speed up the process.
Waddell, who stands at 6-foot, 180 pounds and runs a 4.59 40-yard dash, says he finished 2015 with the second-most tackles on the team and was tied for first in total takeaways throughout 10 games of action.
“My coverage improved a lot this season, but tackling is probably my strongest feature,” he said. “I feel confident about recognizing offenses as well. The main thing I believe I need to improve on is man-to-man coverage. We rarely run it in our version of the 3-4, but I need to put more work in it so I feel confident in everything I’m doing on the field.”
“I would love to hear more from schools such as Miami (OH) or UConn, because I’ve been following their football programs for a long time,” he added. “I absolutely wouldn’t mind hearing from anyone, though.”
Waddell understands that receiving a scholarship offer is a reflection of many things, but none more important than dedication to the game and endless hours of hard work to improve in all facets. He’s prepared to go above and beyond to prove that he’s capable of doing just that and more, and that his message is seen by many.
He’s going to give everything he’s got, and then some, to ensure he’s still playing at the next level.
“Another year in the weight room and getting faster will be big for me,” said Waddell. “Not having that offer yet motivates me to work harder than before. Obviously I’m going to have to perform well during games next season if one hasn’t come around yet, but there’s not much more I can do other than working as hard as I can and then showing out under the lights.”
“I’m a coachable player for sure. Every coach that has coached me has said that,” he continued. “If I don’t do something right the first time, it’ll be done right the next time, and then done to perfection after that. I’ll outwork anyone else and when it’s time to play, you have my guarantee that I’ll be playing my hardest. I’m not afraid to put my body on the line, and I’m going to do what’s best for the team. Always.”
Waddell is just one member of a defensive unit that boasted a handful of Division 1A quality players, possessing at least four other starters who have either received an FBS scholarship offer or significant attention. The secondary is loaded with talent; his counterpart, senior safety Mitchell Larsen, is committed to Ball State, while junior cornerback Josiah Scott has taken visits to West Virginia, Toledo, and Northwestern.
A two-year starter, Waddell (and others) will be leaned upon in 2016 for experience and leadership as he enters his senior season and becomes one of the most important pieces to a roster that will be forced to endure some attrition.
“Leadership is a huge part of football,” he said. “This season we had great senior leaders and now it’s my turn to lead all of the underclassmen. Most players I’ve played with have looked up to me as a leader from what I know, but now it’s really time to step up for my senior season.”
You can view Waddell’s Hudl account here.
Disclaimer: The author, Tyler Waddell, is the older brother of Zack Waddell