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LA News Archive The Schoolhouse

Coach Z's Many Hats
Posted 09/26/2016 10:07AM

A conversation with Paul Zukauskas

by John Bishop

There’s a telling moment in the video commemorating the Lawrence Academy varsity football team’s 2014 NEPSAC championship win in the Hugh Caldera Bowl: An emotional Coach Paul Zukauskas, a 6-foot-5 former Boston College and NFL lineman, stands within a circle of near-silent high school players — young men who, just seconds before, had been raucously celebrating their victory over Williston Northampton School — and, his voice cracking, says, “I love you guys.” The circle remains quiet as the players’ own care for their coach reflects back on the man who led the Spartans back to NEPSAC prominence, then explodes as the unassuming faculty member tells the student-athletes it’s their time to celebrate.

Coach Z in the huddle.Thankfully for LA, that celebratory mood lasted through this past season, when Spartans football captured a second-straight ISL championship and NEPSAC bowl win, this time at home versus a powerful Suffield Academy squad. And it’s clear that Zukauskas’ love for Lawrence Academy goes beyond his senior players, his team, and even the football field; indeed, those emotions and the connection he professed after that big win are obvious to the entire LA community. It’s also obvious that Zukauskas’ own celebration actually began when he first stepped on campus.

“There was a position open to work in admissions and coach football at Lawrence Academy and, thankfully, I applied and got the job,” recalls Zukauskas, now an associate director of admissions, whose football playing career ended with an injury he sustained while with the San Francisco 49ers. “My mother was a teacher and principal, so I knew that working in education could have an amazing impact on young lives.

“Coaching is the same as teaching and educating, where you can impact young people in a very positive way,” Zukauskas adds. “There was also the opportunity to live and work in an amazing community where there was a very nice balance of work and being around my family that you sometimes miss coaching collegiately or professionally.”

Since his arrival in 2011, LA football has achieved a level of success that Coach Z credits to his players and fellow faculty.

“When I arrived at LA, I found an eager group of young men looking to play and learn football, so I think the biggest challenges were my own,” Zukauskas reflects. “I had never been a head coach before, and I hadn’t been around high school football since I graduated high school. There were some steep learning curves for me, but I was inspired by the eagerness of the players that were at LA.”

In particular, Zukauskas — who has seen his fair share of excellent players move on to the NCAA, including Boston College’s Chris Garrison ’15 and Illinois’ Eddy Fish ’16 — remembers Darrien Myers ’13, “who was a player that really played with passion and loved the game of football.”

“He was a real strong leader for me for my first two years,” Zukauskas explains, “as well as an outstanding player. He is having an amazing career at Trinity.”

Zukauskas, set to enter Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame this fall, also credits his staff and his fellow varsity coaches for their assistance.

“It’s nice to come to a campus where you have amazing coaches already here…Donna Mastrangelo, Kim Bohlin, Sean Sheehan, Geoff Harlan, Andrew Healy, Kevin Potter, Kevin Wiercinski, and Chris Margraf were all established coaches who had a great sense of young adults,” says Zukauskas. “There is no shortage of insightful commentary about coaching high school athletes.”

These colleagues have no doubt also helped Zukauskas with his admissions duties, searching for potential Lawrence Academy students.

“I look for students who are willing to work hard and have balance in their high school experience so that they don’t get caught up in one subject or area of the school,” says Zukauskas. “I want students who are able to take some risk and ultimately add to our academic community in many ways.”

Those traits are most important, and usually deliver the intangibles that put LA students over the top in their
work in and outside of the classroom.

HOFer“Working with students at LA, I have learned that you should never be surprised at what they can accomplish or become,” says Zukauskas, who also works with the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University. “Our
students are capable of inspiring themselves, each other, and faculty here on a daily basis. Providing students with options in different subject areas — projects, sports, arts, and leadership roles — creates a lot of space for growth and inspiration.”

And that inspiration also drives Zukauskas each and every day.

“LA has been my home for the past five years, and my wife and two daughters have absolutely loved the experience,” he continues. “How could you not?” (Since this interview, Coach Z and his wife Claire welcomed their third child, Michael, to the family.)

Those who have encountered “Z” off the field have relayed those same sentiments about him: A welcoming, big smile and a hearty handshake await prospective families or advisees as they walk into his office in the Schoolhouse; the same grin may be seen in his family’s apartment in the dorm or in the Stone Athletic Center.

Despite the ever-changing task list, Zukauskas says it’s easy to maintain a positive attitude at a place like LA.

“Working at a boarding school requires a lot of balance, and you have to wear many hats: talking with a prospective family one minute and working through a struggle with a student the next, coaching in the afternoon and being a parent of your own family and then a parent in the dorm,” says Zukauskas. “These different roles and responsibilities carry their own tough situations, but they also bring amazing moments that you could never experience in other professions. Seeing young people develop in a positive way can bring a sense of joy that is tough to come by.”

And with another big smile spreading across his face, Coach Z concludes, “We are grateful to be a part of this wonderful community!”

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