The Spectrum's Q&A with UB's new quarterback Coach Jim Zebrowski
New quarterback Coach Jim Zebrowski has gone from a high school math teacher to coaching national champions to managing an uneasy Buffalo Bulls’ (3-4, 1-2 Mid-American Conference) quarterback situation.
The first-year coach came in with redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyree Jackson as the starter. But Jackson went down in the third game of the season and hasn’t returned. Junior Drew Anderson stepped in and Buffalo went 3-1 in the games he played. Anderson established himself as a quality quarterback but suffered his own injury last week against the Northern Illinois Huskies. True freshman Kyle Vantrease finished the game of Anderson. Buffalo enters this week unsure who will fill the quarterback spot.
Anderson will play if he’s ready, otherwise it will be up to Vantrease on Saturday when the Bulls take on the Miami (OH) RedHawks (2-5, 1-2 MAC).
The Spectrum spoke with Zebrowski who discussed his position and the year so far.
Q: How does this year compare to other first years you’ve had at other schools?
A: I think every first year is different. What’s been really great here is I knew a lot of the coaches because I had worked with Coach Leipold at Wisconsin-Whitewater before, so it was an easy transition. It’s been really fun and then the group of quarterbacks I have to work with are great young men. They work hard and they want to push each other. So compared to a lot of other first years, it’s been really good.
Q: When Drew came in he had a lot of success and looked very professional. What would you say it was about Drew that allowed him to be so successful?
A: I always tell [the quarterbacks] that even if you’re not a starter, you need to prepare like you’re a starter. If you do everything you can, when your moment comes, you’ll have the opportunity to be successful for you individually and for us as a team. I think Drew really did that; he always prepared. He had a great spring and a great fall camp too. I think him just preparing all the time and knowing that he was going to be ready when his opportunity came. He has the tools. He’s a big kid too with a strong arm, and he’s extremely accurate and he’s even-keeled. His strength is that he always prepared like he was already a starter. So when his chance came, he was tremendous.
Q: How does a kid like Vantrease - who is a freshman and thought he was going to redshirt this year - transition into his first college football game just before halftime?
A: What helps Kyle a lot is that he graduated [from high school] early so he was here in the spring. Obviously, you’re still a freshman but being around the team all spring, you become a college student and a part of the team. That helped him get used to our system, to college athletics, to the whole regiment of being a student-athlete; classes and being in the weight room and so-on. And he’s not a little guy either. He’s not as tall as Tyree or Drew, but he’s 225 [pounds] and physical, so I was happy when he came in. … He was prepared and he went in there and did a good job so you’re happy that the preparation did pay off and [Vantrease] was ready for the moment. …I was happy for him because he’s a calm kid as well. What most impressed me was he was very poised in the pocket. You could tell he wasn’t panicking out there or anything. He has a great demeanor - he had a terrific high school career - so he’s mechanically really good and he has that poise, … so that helped him adjust to getting thrown into the game at halftime.
Q: How does having a receiving corps with guys like Anthony Johnson help the team feel confident no matter who is under center?
A: I think that is a big part. Offense in football, when you get specific to passing, everybody always looks to the quarterback, when it’s going good or going bad. They’re always going to put it on the quarterback, but it’s a team thing. The offensive line is giving him time and that helps the cause out. It’s a combination of things. When they know a quarterback is accurate, they’re excited and know they can run routes. When the quarterback throws a ball and it’s not completely accurate but the receiver makes a great catch, it builds confidence. [The quarterback] can say “I can put this ball in the air and [Anthony Johnson, Kamathi Holsey, KJ Osborn, Jacob Martinez] are going to come down with it.” It gives you more confidence.
Q: Tell me a bit about your background. What has your coaching career been like prior to Buffalo?
A: I started off as a high school teacher. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach math and coach high school football. I decided to get my master’s degree at Southern Illinois... I ended up in college football from 1997. From there, I went to Millikin and Lakeland College, then I hooked up with Coach Leipold at Whitewater in 2007 and we were blessed to win a couple national championships. Then I had gotten to know Coach Kill so that’s how I went to Northern Illinois so I went from Division III in ’09 to Division I in 2010 in Northern Illinois... I always tell people the kids I work with have been tremendous and have had success and that’s helped me get to where I am. But I never said “I hope I’m here, I hope I’m there.” I’ve always lived by the simple premise “a good time is where you’re at.” So I’ve always enjoyed every step of the way but every experience has helped me. And I’m a teacher, that’s what I do. That’s what coaching is: teaching. So I’ve worked hard to be the best teacher I could be as a coach... I just listen and learn and keep learning and it’s been really good for me. Thankfully, good things have happened for my family and I but it’s all because of the kids I’ve coached and the places I’ve been. I have been really fortunate.
Daniel Petruccelli is the Co-Senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org