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UND 'lucky' to discover tight end Adam Zavalney

Zavalney, a junior from Park River, has 25 career catches and seven touchdowns.

081722 S GFH UNDFB EdmundOcansey AdamZavalney TommySchuster01.jpg
Fighting Hawks quarterback Tommy Schuster (2) catches the snap as tight end Adam Zavalney (39) blocks defensive back Edmund Ocansey (8) during a live scrimmage on the UND campus on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — About 80 percent of UND football's last three recruiting classes are comprised of players who attended one of the team's summer elite camps, where the Fighting Hawks coaching staff can view recruits in person and see them compete against other strong prospects.

UND junior tight end Adam Zavalney played baseball in the summer. He never went to a college football camp.

"That was good for us," said UND coach Bubba Schweigert, meaning nobody else was able to discover the raw 6-foot-4 athlete.

So, how did the UND staff know a skinny quarterback from small Park River, N.D., could develop into one of the program's best tight ends of the Division I era?

"We got lucky," UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund said during Tuesday's annual media day at the UND Memorial Union.


Zavalney, now 40 pounds heavier than when he committed to the Fighting Hawks, has started to gain a reputation as an offensive threat in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

Zavalney, who was named to the Phil Steele preseason all-Missouri Valley Football Conference team, has played in 16 games over the last two seasons and has 25 catches, with seven of those going for a touchdown. He's racked up 383 career yards.

Because Zavalney never went to a college football camp, UND's coaching staff didn't know much of Zavalney in 2018. His Park River team went 2-6 during his senior season.

But Park River assistant coach Jake Schauer, now the head coach at Grand Forks Central, is a cousin of UND wide receivers coach Sam King.

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The Fighting Hawks will face a run-heavy opponent in Youngstown State, a program entering the matchup with questions at quarterback.

Schauer called King and said UND should take a look at Zavalney, who was originally a walk-on for UND.

"I think a lot of people were expecting me to go play baseball," Zavalney said. "I got invited to come to a (UND) gameday and met the coaches. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. If I wanted to play baseball, I'd probably have to move farther away. I grew up going to UND hockey and football games. It was always a dream to wear green and play here. Once I got the opportunity, I was excited."

Zavalney has a twin brother, Nate, who played college baseball at Iowa Central for two seasons. Nate, who now attends UND, was born with an enlarged aorta and wasn't allowed to play contact sports like football.

But a competitive nature between twin brothers is what Adam said sparked his ability to transition from high school quarterback to the physical demands of college tight end.


"We were always getting into fights," Adam said. "We were pretty competitive."

When Zavalney committed to UND in October of 2018, he was 195 pounds.

"He's a really good athlete as far as his length and size," Freund said. "He's put on the weight and can move with that weight just as good as when he was 220 (pounds).

"To Adam's credit, he bought in completely and has earned a scholarship and played a lot of football for us."

Freund said Zavalney's growing confidence is what has allowed him to emerge over the past two seasons.

"The whole blocking part of it was an adjustment, knowing where to go and being super-physical takes time," Freund said. "We're excited about his development. He's playing with more confidence and belief in himself, which is big for him.

"At times, he's too nice of a guy. He needs to understand how good he can be and commit to the physicality of the position. He still has a lot of upside."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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