Pittsburgh, Pa., native Zane Zandier, has changed up his appearance since joining the Virginia football team in the fall of 2017.
When he enrolled at UVA in the summer of 2017, the 6-foot-3 Zandier weighed only 205 pounds. He’s now around 235, and the extra size and strength help him handle the physical demands of his position. He already had the ideal mindset.
“We did a lot of different Olympic lifting and stuff like that with power cleans,” Zandier said. “We lifted a lot of legs and I think I put on a lot of weight that way. I like lifting legs, we did squat and power cleans a lot so that really helped me.
The transformation wasn’t just in the gym, Zandier also had a new meal routine to follow.
“With our nutritionists, they helped me set out a plan with dieting and working out I was able to put on the weight. I ate like six meals a day, it was kind of a weird concept. There were different things I had to eat. It was pretty normal for guys that are trying to put on weight and had similar plans as me. A couple of us were in it together. I feel a good 235 right now.”
All of the hard work building muscle has given him a new advantage on the field that he did not have before.
“Being able to be 235 pounds and to be able to run as fast as I did at 205. Playing in the ACC, playing linebacker, all of the offensive linemen we are going to face are 300-320 pounds so being able to be stronger helps you beat blocks and make a lot more plays than we you are lighter. It helps a lot to stop the run-game.”
“Zane’s presence is really what is the catalyst to our front seven,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “Now that he has the physical presence to back that up, that’s even more powerful.”
Zandier plays with “an edge and a physicality and a violence that comes with an inside linebacker with his temperament,” Mendenhall said. “When you back up that temperament with 205, it doesn’t quite have the same sting as it does with . So [mixing] the temperament with the physical capability now, that adds a different element to run defense. I would say that’s characteristic of our entire defensive front, where the mindset is developing, but the physicality has also come along because of maturity, depth, time and strength.”
Early in his first training camp at UVA, Zandier moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. As a true freshman, as Micah Kiser’s understudy, he appeared in 11 games and made three tackles.
In 2018, Zandier totaled 63 tackles, including five for loss, and had two sacks. In his first start, a 45-31 win over Ohio in Nashville, Tenn., he made a game-high 10 tackles and had 1.5 sacks.
The key for Zandier this season, inside linebackers coach Shane Hunter said, is “being consistent, playing on fire all the time, like he does. That’s the great thing about Zane: He brings that, and it blends well with Jordan and Rob and all the other guys.”
The ongoing competition for playing time at inside linebacker, especially among the three veterans, is fierce, Zandier said, “just because we are going up against each other, but it’s not hostile by any means. The three of us work together to help each other out and learn the defense together.”
Asked about Zandier, Mack said, “Watching him grow over the years has been an honor, and he’s continuing to grow, and I’m just excited and honored to play alongside him.”
As an upperclassman, Zandier has entered a new phase in his college career. Still, Hunter said his expectations for everyone in his group “are the same, regardless of what year you are. You know that if you’re going to play inside linebacker here, you have to do a great job. You have to know the defense. You have to be able to make the checks. You have to be a leader out on the field, knowing how to get the front set and all that. So it doesn’t change whether you’re Jordan Mack, who’s coming back for his fourth year, or Nick Jackson, who’s in his first year.”
Even so, Zandier said, he expects more from himself this season.
“Last year, in my first couple starts, it was all coming at you fast, and you don’t really get to settle in,” he said. “This year, having done it, I have the confidence to know that I can be a great linebacker in the ACC. It’s just going out and doing it every single game, and being durable and helping the team out as much as I possibly can. Being consistent is a huge thing.”
His sophomore season ended on a bittersweet note. In the Belk Bowl, UVA blanked South Carolina 28-0 in Charlotte, N.C. But Zandier broke his right thumb late in the second quarter while making a tackle. He watched the second half from the sideline and had surgery on his thumb a few days later.
He missed the winter strength and conditioning program and was “a little out of shape” when spring practice began, Zandier said. “But our strength staff did a great job this summer, and I think I didn’t really miss a beat coming into fall camp.
“The worst part about it was I had pins in my thumb, so there was a month or two where I wasn’t allowed to sweat, because they could get infected. So I was kind of sitting there doing nothing and cheering people on every workout.”
The redheaded Zandier, who’s sporting a modified mohawk these days, has certainly changed his look, but the fierce desire to excel on the field remains the same.