Joel Hartzell, Brian Lafty and Zack Tarburton comprised an interesting trio.
All three Pennridge seniors were recognized for committing to continue their football careers at the collegiate level, but all three have decidedly different stories.
Hartzell was a late bloomer who came out of nowhere to receive an offer to play football at Duquesne University. Lafty, who will play collegiate football at Franklin & Marshall, made a name for himself in the weight room, lighting up the internet when he squatted 640 pounds three times in succession. Tarburton followed in the sizable footsteps of his brother, Nick Tarburton, a two-time all-state linebacker who is now playing football at Penn State. Zack established his own identity as a first team all-league offensive lineman, and he will play Division I football at Bucknell University.
“You have three great guys who are going on to the next level – you can’t say enough about (them),” coach Cody Muller said. “This is probably one of the prouder moments as a coach, seeing these guys being able to accomplish some of their goals and what their dream is – making it to the next level. The future is bright for all three of them.”
Hartzell lost 30 pounds between his junior and senior year and made major improvements to his game, catching the eye of college coaches last fall.
“Joel Hartzell is the guy that nobody knew about,” Muller said. “He stepped in this year at the right tackle, and he became one of the best players we had and the most consistent game in and game out. He really flipped a switch and matured as the season went on, and coaches noticed that.”
Hartzell’s final decision came down to Duquesne and Gannon.
“I loved the campus, and I loved the football program they have there,” he said. “It really felt like a college even though it’s in the middle of Pittsburgh, and there’s so much to do.
“I want to get a lot stronger and a lot quicker, and I definitely want to see the field, whether that be some series or maybe starting.”
Lafty chose Franklin & Marshall from a final list that included Ursinus and Widener.
“What really set them apart – their academic standards are really high, and the financial aid worked out really well for me,” he said. “I loved everything about the football program.
“The coach recruiting me, coach Fett (Mark Fetterman), is the defensive coach, and he’s looking at me for defense. He has a plan for me.”
Lafty came by his love of football honestly. His dad played collegiate football at Lycoming.
“It was always in my head that it would be something fun to do,” Lafty said. “It didn’t become a big thing until senior year when I was like, ‘What’s the next step for me?’”
As a senior, Lafty was a captain who led by example.
“What you don’t know about Brian is the kid that he is and the tremendous heart that he has,” Muller said. “He gave everything he had and then some.”
Tarburton also considered Boston College and Syracuse but would not have played football at either school. The opportunity to play a sport he loves at Bucknell made it an easy choice.
“The coaching staff there was really good to me,” he said. “They put together a really good recruiting class. They call them OKGs – our kind of guys, and they’re all just a great group of guys that love to play football and really want to work hard.
“They say they only sign OKGs, and I really liked that. I visited and fell in love with the campus. They’re really doing some good things out there.”
Playing collegiate football was always a goal for Tarburton, who cracked the starting lineup as a junior and never left.
“We knew he was going to be a ballplayer,” Muller said. “Just because of what he did the year before, I knew I had a special kid there.
“He was a great leader as a captain and really a solid piece of the offensive line. He just gave everything he had every snap.”
For Hartzell, Lafty and Tarburton, who have a history going back to their peewee football days, last week’s signing marked the end of one journey and the beginning another.
“It’s crazy to think about it,” Lafty said. “I just have a lot of love for all these guys. They helped me through everything, through the ups and downs.”
“I love these guys – these guys are my brothers forever,” Tarburton said. “I love coach Muller, I love everyone here. We put together a great group of guys – we all love to work hard. I love Pennridge as well.”