Zak Kendall fell a little behind on filling out his college applications recently. The paper work for the Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Defensive Lineman Award took precedence.
Kendall didn’t mind, though, especially since the committee that selects the award didn’t keep him in suspense for very long.
The Mt. Blue senior is one of three finalists for the Gaziano Defensive Lineman Award, along with Greg Duff of Bangor and Kurt Massey of John Bapst.
The three finalists for the Offensive Lineman Award were also announced — Bobby Begin of Thornton Academy, Jack Lucy of Orono and Andy Martel of Bonny Eagle.
Winners will be announced at the annual awards brunch, which is Jan. 27 at the Augusta Civic Center. Each winner receives a trophy, a leather jacket and a $5,000 scholarship.
Kendall interviewed with the awards’ selection committee Tuesday night in Portland and received an email Wednesday morning notifying him that he had been named a finalist for the award, given annually to the state’s top senior offensive and defensive linemen.
A defensive end/tight end/running back on Mt. Blue’s unbeaten Class B state championship team, Kendall was a two-year, two-way starter on defense and earned all-Pine Tree Conference honors both years (defensive end in 2012 and tight end in 2011).
Kendall, whose teammate, quarterback Jordan Whitney, was widely considered a snub when the semifinalists for the Fitzpatrick Trophy were announced, said being named a finalist was a tribute to his whole team.
“It really feels great,” he said. “Especially with what happened with Jordan with the Fitzpatrick Award, it really feels good to have a Mt. Blue representative. I’m really representing my team because there are so many deserving linemen who played for Mt. Blue this year, guys like Drew Blanchet and Eli Luker and all those guys. I feel like I’m representing my team and what our line has been doing for years with coach (Peter) Franchetti.”
Kendall stood out even on a defense that featured the much-heralded linebacker tandem of Bradley Jackson and Chad Luker. He called the plays for the defense and was a dominating run-stuffer who offenses game-planned to avoid.
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kendall was the perfect combination of brains and brawn on the gridiron, Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin said.
“He is probably the guy who understands football the best of anybody on our team,” Parlin said. “He would coach guys around him, the tackle that played beside him, the outside linebacker to his right. He would come up to us (coaches) with ideas and always be right. He’s probably way too intelligent to be a coach someday, but I really hope he does coach someday, whatever the level.”
“I’ve been playing defensive end now for eight or nine years, so I know the position well,” said Kendall, a talented musician who hopes to play football and study music in college. “I have a great relationship with (defensive coordinator Craig) Collins, who’s as great as a coach as any. We had kind of a father-son relationship and he looked to me as a leader.”
Despite the acclaim, the humble Kendall had a difficult time listing his credentials in a required essay for the award or while meeting the committee, which is made up of mostly of current and former high school coaches.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “It’s been different because being surrounded by so much talent, I’ve never really been one to boast my own, I guess you could say. Doing all the paper work and the interviews and stuff, you don’t want to sound too cocky, but you do have to kind of present yourself and what you have for capabilities and everything.”
Gaziano winners are selected based on their leadership on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The award has been presented annually since 2010, according to the award’s website, “to players who epitomize the character, leadership and perseverance of Gaziano,” a former high school, college and professional football player who went on to found National Distributors.
To qualify for consideration for the award, applicants must be high school seniors nominated by their coach, have competed at the varsity level for a minimum of two years and have “an exemplary record of positive athletic and non-athletic citizenship.”
Applicants were required to submit an essay and a game-film featuring them competing against their toughest opponent. The applications are reviewed by the selection committee, which consists of Chris Davis, Charles Hews, Mark Bonnevie, Mike Haley, Tim Rice, Ed McAleney, Mike Marston, Dan O’Connell, Bob Sinclair, Peter DeSimon, Matt Perkins and Pete Cloutier.
The finalists were selected from a record 31 nominees who were announced last month. The four runners-up will receive $1,000 scholarships.
Former University of Maine star and pro football player John Huard will be the guest speaker at this year’s ceremony. The Waterville native played linebacker for the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, as well as the CFL, in the 1960s and 1970s.
More information on the banquet can be found at www.gazianolinemanawards.org.