Zach LaPolice commonly referred to his football teammates in New Canaan as “brothers,” a term which emphasized the family feeling within the program.
Now taking a post graduate year at Choate, LaPolice has a new group of brothers, and that family has quickly become close-knit even without games to play.
“A team in a unique situation is what we’ve really talked about and we’re going through everything together,” LaPolice said. “All of my boys, my brothers on that team, we’re in a unique situation, but if we can’t play games, why not bring the best energy to practice and the things that we can do at Choate.”
Following a dynamic senior season with New Canaan and an enlightening experience at Choate, LaPolice is ready to take the next step and has committed to play football at Cornell University next year. The Big Red, which is led by coach David Archer, did not play this year as all Ivy League sports were canceled due to the pandemic.
LaPolice had narrowed his choices down to Cornell and Colgate, and he called it “one of the most difficult decisions of my life.”
“Colgate and Cornell have amazing coaching staffs, especially the receiving coaches and offensive coordinators; and they’re both extremely successful schools and good schools as well,” LaPolice said. “But there’s something about an Ivy League education that is unmatched and I couldn’t turn that down. That’s alongside the fact that Ivy League football is something special.”
LaPolice’s brother Alex, a 2015 graduate of New Canaan, also played in the Ivy League at Harvard.
LaPolice was New Canaan’s top receiver and kick returner during his senior season in 2019, leading the Rams with 56 catches, 941 yards, 11 touchdown receptions, and 1,223 all-purpose yards.
He was the top target for quarterback Drew Pyne, now at Notre Dame, as nearly half of Pyne’s touchdown passes went to LaPolice.
“By his senior year, he had come such a long way,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “He really developed and kind of made a living on our jet sweep. He had a dynamic senior year and (LaPolice and Pyne) really complemented each other. Zach was a captain, a team leader and did a great job being a teammate.”
Big plays were part of LaPolice’s resume, as his speed and ability to read the field made him a breakaway threat. As a New Canaan senior, he had eight touchdowns of 50 or more yards, and scored in nine of 12 games.
“I want to be the guy who’s given the ball in tough situations in tough games,” LaPolice said. “Truthfully, the ability to do that comes from all the offseason work — the work with Coach (Jason) Miska and Coach (Dan) Farina last year, and with Drew (Pyne). Those moments aren’t easy, but it definitely makes it fun when you are making those plays. I happened to get the right opportunities to make those plays last year.”
The pandemic has made LaPolice’s time at Choate different, but not devastating. Unable to play 11-on-11 games or even practice in pads, he and his teammates have developed a bond while making the best of the situation.
“I’ve been getting ready for a football season for the past 13 years of my life, and I was really looking forward to that (at Choate),” LaPolice said. “COVID has affected us with the lack of normalcy, but we’ve all adjusted. We’re working on the little things and working together as a team. Our brotherhood grew because of what we’ve had to go through.”
That brotherhood includes his roommate, Ben Taylor, who played for football power DeMatha Catholic in Maryland.
“It’s really been enlightening,” LaPolice said. “He’s a guy I’ll call my brother until my last breath. He’s a great player and a special person. He went to DeMatha and was a freshman when (Heisman finalist and Washington DE) Chase Young was playing — that’s insane. He played against St. John’s Bosco, an extreme power in California, and had so many great moments as a football player and a person living in Bowie, Md. He’s definitely one of my best friends.”
In addition to erasing Choate’s football games, the pandemic also made the college selection process more difficult to navigate, LaPolice said. Players couldn’t go on official visits, instead taking virtual tours, and couldn’t meet with coaches in-person.
LaPolice had visited several campuses during his junior and senior years in New Canaan, and was able to make a trip with family to Colgate and Cornell on the same day shortly before going to Choate, where he and his classmates were subsequently placed in a bubble.
“I was lucky enough to be able to go visit both and see what it was like and picture myself there and on campus,” LaPolice said. “That was very helpful but for all the 2021s (graduates), it’s very different than any of the years before.”
Marinelli said LaPolice made a solid choice in Cornell.
“It’s a great fit for him,” Marinelli said. “They have some local coaches up there — Jared Backus is the defensive coordinator and he played at Norwalk, and Joe Villapiano was at Harvard when Alex (LaPolice) was there. So they’ve had their eye on Zach for a long time and I think they’re really glad to have him.
“Cornell went off his high school film because he didn’t get a chance to play any prep school games, so that gives you an idea of how dynamic his senior year (at New Canaan) was.”
LaPolice said his goal at Cornell is to contribute immediately. That could be starting on offense, or if that doesn’t happen, getting playing time as a kick or punt returner.
“My goal right away is to start as a freshman and if not, I want to get valuable playing time and help the team wherever I can,” LaPolice said. “With coach Archer, we have something special that we’re going to bring to the Ivy League in the next four years, so I’m extremely excited about having the opportunity to play football at an Ivy League School.”