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Zach Maxwell runs his route during football practice at Southington High School in Southington, Aug. 27, 2013. | (Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal)
Zach Maxwell, captain Southington High School Blue Knights Football, Aug. 27, 2013. | (Christopher Zajac / Record-Journal)

In football or wrestling, Maxwell an armed force

For Zach Maxwell, the college search won’t come down to merely choosing among schools. It will likely involve choosing between sports.

The Southington senior is a returning All-State athlete in both football and wrestling.

Beyond that, the process ultimately might not even be about choosing. It could be more about following a calling.

Maxwell has spent his high school years considering a career in the Army. With a formal offer from West Point now on his table, it’s become more than just a dream.

The offer came after Maxwell attended a one-day camp in West Point in mid-July.

“It’s beautiful up there. At the end of the day the coach offered me, so I was real excited about that,” Maxwell recounted last week. “Obviously, you’ve got to think about the commitment afterward, but if it’s something you want to do, then it’s totally worth it.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, actually, since freshman year. I mean, I think about it and I think about it as something that I have to do, almost sort of like a calling.”

Maxwell does not come from a military family, at least not his immediate family. But his dad, Dave, is a Meriden policeman and that has had a profound influence.

“He’s been a police officer for 20 years and I’ve always been interested in what he did,” Maxwell said. “I respect what he does.”

And coaches, teammates and opponents have really come to respect what Maxwell does.

Try this on for size. Last year, Maxwell went from football, where his All-State season at defensive end included MVP honors in the Thanksgiving Day Apple Classic, to a wrestling season that saw him go 44-2 en route to winning CIAC Class LL and State Open championships in the 195-pound division.

The six-foot Maxwell, whose football weight is about 10-15 pounds higher, brings not just strength and stamina to the arena, he brings remarkable speed. His athleticism is such that his position on offense has gone from guard to tight end/slot receiver.

Maxwell made the move shortly after his wrestling season ended with a fifth-place finish at the New England Open in early March. By then, the football team was involved in a winter passing league. Maxwell hopped right in.

“He was raw running routes, but he came on so quick he became a tremendous target in all passing leagues and into spring football,” Southington football coach Mike Drury said. “He’s got tremendous hands and pretty good route-running ability.”

“I’m learning; I’m getting the hang of it, and I like it,” Maxwell said. “I like scoring touchdowns.”

On defense, along with lining up at his customary spot at end, Maxwell will also see time at outside linebacker this fall -- both because he fits well at that position in certain schemes the Blue Knights run and because he projects as a college linebacker.

Drury and Maxwell know full well recruiters will be watching.

“I can’t wait for that,” Maxwell said. “I’m really excited for this fall. I know I have a lot of pressure on me, but that’s what keeps me going.”

Drury said that, Army offer aside, Maxwell is drawing considerable interest from Division I-AA programs (or Football Championship Subdivision schools, as they’re now called). He expects Maxwell will be heavily scouted during the season, with offers forthcoming later in the year.

“Zach, he’s prepared himself to have the best season possible. I think his performance is going to speak for itself,” Drury said. “I think toward the end of the season, and as January and February come around, things will be more crystallized for him. But he’s going to have plenty of options. There are going to be a lot of people knocking on his door.”

National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February will be a busy one at Southington this academic year. Football has a particularly gifted senior class. Quarterback Stephen Barmore, for one, has already given a verbal commitment to Yale.

The QB is looking forward to having Maxwell at that signing table with him. It’s only fitting. There mothers close friends, Barmore and Maxwell grew up together virtually from Day 1. There will be a baby picture of the two together in this season’s team program.

“We’ve known each other since we were born,” Barmore said. “It’s been really nice to grow up and both get All-State honors last year and be able to play with him for the better part of my football career.”

Barmore and Maxwell, along with Tyler Hyde and Jim Nardi, are this year’s Southington captains. Drury said Maxwell is one of those lead-by-example captains.

“The big thing is he’s stepping up as a leader on this team and being someone kids look up to and see the work he’s put in. He doesn’t just have natural abilities, he’s worked at it,” the head coach noted. “The way he plays, tough kid, always doing the right thing. You’re never going to catch him doing the wrong thing. He does his job always. Kids look to that and they really respect that.”

Indeed, the Blue Knights know what they’re going to get from Maxwell, on the football field and on the wrestling mat. About the only uncertainty is which sport he’ll pursue at the next level.

Choice? Calling? The questions might go unanswered until that first Wednesday in February.

“My wrestling coach (Derek Dion) thinks I can go Division I for wrestling,” Maxwell said. “It’s just a whole other world. There’s just so much more to learn about wrestling when you get up to that level than you know in high school.

“As of right now I’m leaning more towards football just for the sole fact that I’ve gotten an offer to play football. Wrestling, I haven’t gotten any offers. But I’m going to wait out both seasons and see where it takes me just to be sure.”

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