POTSDAM — People often tell Potsdam High School senior Zach Kirka that he is just like his father, Jim, who is the head coach of the football team.
The two look alike, for people a generation apart, and both have been quarterbacks for the Sandstoners.
“I don’t think we are alike at all,” Zach Kirka said. “We have a lot of the same mentality. We have fun. But I think we’ve butted heads quite a bit through the years. He’s an old-fashioned guy and he always will be. Me and my teammates want to try new things and he wants to stick with what works, and we all want to win.”
Jim Kirka’s methods, while old-school, have worked well for the Sandstoners this year. Potsdam hosts tonight’s Section 10 Class B title game against Malone with a 5-2 record and the squad has allowed just 14.4 points per game. Take away last weekend’s 48 points given up against Ogdensburg Free Academy, and the Sandstoners have allowed 8.8 ppg.
Potsdam’s clear offensive standout is junior running back Will Varney, while Kirka shines at quarterback more for his leadership qualities than arm strength.
But when Potsdam is on defense, Kirka is clearly the star. He averages 10 tackles a game at linebacker and he’s the leading candidate to be the NAC’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“He epitomizes high school football,” Jim Kirka said of his son. “He’s gritty, he likes a challenge. He likes to play. He’s competitive. He watches film and he understands where (the opposing team’s plays) are going, the tendencies, how to put our guys in place. He knows the personnel around him. He is like having a coach on the field. He’s vocal enough to get them in the right direction and he just challenges the kids.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Zach Kirka is like a coach in the field considering he has been going to practice with his dad ever since he could walk. He grew up as one of Potsdam’s ball boys.
“The (varsity players) were all nice to me,” Zach Kirka said of his childhood. “(Wearing a Potsdam uniform) means a lot. It is really cool. I’ve always been there to watch them and my dad was always coaching. It was like I had a name to live up to. It’s been crazy. I’ve literally been on the football field my whole life.”
Zach Kirka pointed out that playing quarterback is much different today than when his dad played. Jim Kirka agrees.
“He’s much more physical than I was,” Jim Kirka said. “He’s very defensive-minded. He spent a lot more time watching film. He really directs traffic out there defensively and that’s a lot different than it used to be.”
The family conversations about the game often continue when the two get home.
“Some of these discussions go on around the dinner table. I have to make sure to hold my son more accountable and I have higher expectations and that’s just part of it,” Jim Kirka said. “That makes for a good team. I’ve learned from those around me you have to make sure the kids buy into it and they know he’s no different than anyone else. At the end of the day it’s about winning, but if you aren’t having fun, it doesn’t matter. It’s got to be fun. It’s definitely work and painful, but it’s fun.”
Zach Kirka possesses a true linebacker mentality, even as a quarterback. If a defensive player gets in a good hit on him, he makes a mental note and tries to repay him when he’s on defense.
“That’s a nice benefit of being able to play linebacker,” Zach Kirka said. “I get to make plays. I have the ability to go side-to-side. I can go anywhere on the field. I can blitz. I can attack the run or the pass. There’s nothing better than de-cleating somebody. (If the same happens to him), I can’t be mad, because I get a chance to hit them back on defense. You have to say, ‘Good hit’, get up and take it.”
THE KIRKA FILE
Parents: Jim and Donna
Other: President of Technical Honor Society