Jan Cook winner Zach Melnyk signs with McMaster
Thursday was a big day for Zach Melnyk.
The star linebacker/fullback for the Southern Ontario Secondary Schools Association champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish signed a letter of intent to play scholarship football at McMaster and was awarded the inaugural Jan Cook Award recognizing him as Niagara’s top high school football player in 2019.
McMaster head coach Stefan Ptaszek described himself as a cat watching a canary while Melnyk signed the papers committing himself to the McMaster Marauders.
“Zach is as tough as they come and Welland Notre Dame football is as good as there is anywhere in the country,” Ptaszek said. “Coach (Tim) Bisci and his crew get them well-prepared for school and football at the next level and we are excited to work with him.”
Ptaszek loves what Melynk brings to the football field.
“He’s a pure run stopper and he’s the top linebacker on our (recruitment) board and I can’t wait to watch him control the middle of the field. At the linebacker spot, he is as good as they come.”
Mac’s scouts have had their eyes on Melnyk for quite some time.
“For his Notre Dame team, he was everywhere. He is going to be a great special teams player and given how tough he is, he is going to make an impact with us early in his career.”
Ptaszek has no issue with Melnyk playing with his trademark edginess.
“Especially defensively in the middle of that front, you need to,” he said. “It’s a passion and when you get to the point where you are selling yourself on every single play, that edge is something that helps you.”
The 18-year-old Welland resident is a proud product of the Niagara football pipeline.
“It’s a definite tribute to all the coaches,” he said. “I have had so many coaches along the what who have helped me become the player I am.”
Heading into Grade 9 at Notre Dame, he had never stepped on a football field.
“I never even thought about it and someone got me out there,” he said “I fell in love with it and I had so many coaches who were willing to contribute their time and effort to invest in me as a player and help me grow.”
In addition to five years at Notre Dame, Melnyk played two years of junior varsity with the Niagara Spears and this summer he will play his third season of varsity ball with the Spears.
He’s not sure if he was an instant star in the sport.
“It depends on who you ask, I would say,” he said, with a laugh. “I think it was Grade 10 in the summer when I really realized I might have a future in going to university and playing.”
Melnyk had a number of offers and he ultimately chose McMaster from a group of finalists that included Guelph and the University of Toronto.
“You can just tell the coaches are great people and it’s a great atmosphere, history and culture there with all the Yates Cup wins and all of that,” the 5-foot-11, 225 pounder said.
Melnyk spent time on campus and that helped solidify his decision.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and all-around it’s the best school for me.”
Melnyk feels upgrading his knowledge of football will help him take the next step in his career.
“I’m super-excited to learn from defensive coordinator Mr. (Scott) Brady,” he said. “He is a genius defensive coordinator and I am looking forward to picking his brain as much as he will allow me to.”
He knows there will be other adjustments as well.
“Everything is bigger, faster and stronger up there and that’s also what I will have to focus on.”
His goals for his first season are simple.
“It’s to be the best player I can be and contribute to winning a championship,” he said. “We definitely didn’t get to do that this year and that definitely stung.”
Notre Dame head coach Tim Bisci described Thursday as an exciting day for Melnyk and Notre Dame.
“He has come right through our program for five years and has really excelled,” he said. “When we first got him in Grade 11, he was already a big-time player and he grew even more right into 12B.”
Countless university scouts inquired about Melynk.
“It’s not often I get asked about a player on both sides of the ball,” Bisci said. “They were asking me sometimes what I thought he would be best at, but either way, he is going to work hard to do well at it.”
Bisci agrees Melnyk is the perfect choice for the Jan Cook Award.
“We could probably have made him the (Niagara Catholic Athletic Association) offensive player of the year and he was the defensive player of the year,” he said. “How many guys in our entire league would be able to do that on both sides of the ball?
“He was probably the best player all of the way around.”
The Jan Cook Award is sponsored by Credit Bureau Services Canada and BPSN. It is presented in honour of the late Jan Cook, a noted local philanthropist and sportsman, and a frequent spectator on the sidelines of Sir Winston Churchill football games.
The winner was selected on the basis of a BPSN poll of university scouts and local coaches.
Other players receiving multiple nominations for the award were: Notre Dame’s Jacob Succar; Saint Paul’s Jarrel Pappin; A.N. Myer’s Zach Ayotte; Grimsby’s Ryan Neudorf; and, Centennial’s Garvin Leavens.