CENTRAL POINT — As with many "finds" in the sports world, sometimes it takes a while to truly appreciate and understand what you've got, even when it's standing right in front of you.

CENTRAL POINT — As with many "finds" in the sports world, sometimes it takes a while to truly appreciate and understand what you've got, even when it's standing right in front of you.

That's kind of been the case with Crater senior lineman Zach Zelecki. Despite being in his third year as a two-way starter for the Comets, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder has mostly been viewed as someone who has quietly built up steam in the program.

Zelecki's résumé has always been above board, from his first-team all-conference status as an offensive tackle and defensive lineman last season to his honorable mention all-state honor earned as a Class 5A left tackle.

He's also been a leader in the classroom, and sports a 3.83 grade-point average.

But it wasn't until Crater head coach John Beck began sending out highlight tapes of Zelecki to potential colleges and gained feedback that his eyes truly were opened on the type of player he has in the versatile lineman.

"When we sent out his tape last year to the college coaches, they were interested in him right away and that's when we noticed it," says Beck. "After you see his highlight tape you go, 'Oh, he is pretty good.' You kinda get lost in not paying attention to one kid after looking at tape of the whole team all season, but we really noticed something when we looked at it again."

It's not like the Crater coaches didn't know they had a special player in Zelecki, it's just sometimes another person's focus helps sharpen your own. What Zelecki has shown in his time with the Comets is good explosion for someone his size, solid technique and a firm understanding of leverage and how it can be used properly.

Then the next curveball came, which is particularly fitting since Zelecki is a pitcher for the baseball team.

"I always thought he'd be more of an offensive tackle in college because he's 6-5 and long and he's got the ability to get big," says Beck, "but all of the (coaches) across the board want him defensively."

Even though most of his post-season accolades have come for his abilities at left tackle on the offense, Zelecki says it didn't surprise him at all that defense might one day be his forte.

"I've got it in the back of my head that I'm more of a defensive guy," admits Zelecki. "I like smashing people's mouths more than pushing weight around."

Whatever the role, Zelecki has continually risen to the challenge.

He has played a big role in helping the Comets rank second among Southwest Conference teams in scoring defense (15 points per game allowed) and third in total defense (268.3 yards per game allowed).

Crater (2-1, 0-1 SWC) also leads the SWC with a plus-7 turnover ratio heading into Friday's home game against South Medford (2-1, 1-0).

"You line me up against whoever — I don't care how big they are — and we're going to play some ball and get after it," says Zelecki, who had 17 defensive involvements in last week's 10-3 loss at Thurston.

It's that attitude that helped get him noticed through various summer camps in the offseason, including a pair of Nike elite camps that had him singled out as one of the top four defensive linemen at each camp.

"He's really proven himself against some of the best kids around," says Beck.

That ability, combined with his good grades, has earned Zelecki verbal offers from Yale University (he would still need to raise his SAT scores) and the Air Force Academy. Montana State and Portland State have also shown interest.

"He's just a great guy," Beck says of the senior. "He's really mature for his age and he's got a lot of the intangibles. He's got a great work ethic in the weight room, is accountable and just has all those things you look for as a coach. We're real proud of him."

Not bad for someone who couldn't put the pads on until sixth grade because he weighed too much to play Pop Warner football. Zelecki says he even saw some time at quarterback once he got into serious football.

"I'd just run around the edge and try to plow some cornerback like a Jerome Bettis," he says with a laugh. "But after I started losing my spiral, they put me down on the line."

Ever since, he's tried to make it a point to abide by the words of Crater defensive coordinator Brad Eaton.

"Like coach Eaton says, the difference between a good lineman and a great lineman is a guy who can come back play after play and put his knuckles on the ground and just whoop ass play after play," says Zelecki. "You've just got to have that drive and grit and invest that time by working your fingers down to the bone. Then come Friday night you look across the line and say, 'Hey, look, I'm gonna give you my best and you give your best and we'll battle it out to see who's better.'"

And while Zelecki admits not every night is a win, that's not exactly the point. The Comets are all about making you earn anything you get.

"Anybody who comes out and plays us better be ready for 48 minutes and a dogfight," he cautions. "You may win, but it ain't going to be easy."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com