Riley Zayicek says he is always focused on the task at hand.For the 16-year-old sophomore that can mean a lot of different things. He is a plays varsity football and baseball at SouthLake Christian Academy is on a year-round baseball club team, the U16 Camo Dirtbags in addition to being a student. Zayicek, who boasts a 4.1 grade-point average, even runs his own landscaping business on the side when he finds time.“The key is just staying organized and following the plan for that day, because I really don’t have any time to waste,” said Riley. “Sometimes I’ll go from football practice to baseball practice to homework. It can be a grind at times, getting up at 5:30 in the morning to lift weights, and then not getting home until late that night. But for the most part, I love doing it all.”Said his father, Dick, a national sales manager for Mass Mutual Insurance, “Riley has always been focused like that, so it doesn’t surprise me what is doing now. He’s been playing baseball, football and even basketball since he was knee high, so to get to continue to do what he loves to do at a higher level is great.”Zayicek’s hard work has already paid dividends in less than two years at the high school level. He earned a spot on the SouthLake Christian varsity baseball and football teams as a freshman and was a key player from the start.After establishing himself as part-time starter at linebacker as a freshman, Zayicek barely came off the field for the NCISAA Division III state champion Eagles this past season (2013), starting every game including eight at wide receiver/tight end, three at linebacker and two at quarterback. He also played on the kicking and punting units.Zayicek had one of his biggest games was in the state championship game, when regular starting quarterback Luke Lancaster went down with an injury prior to the game. Zayicek, who found out he was going to start at quarterback just hours before the championship game, helped lead his team to a 7-0 victory and a state title.“I actually found out I was playing quarterback at like 11:30 (a.m.) that day and I was like ‘Whoa,” at first,” Zayicek said. “But I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations before in baseball and football. I knew what I was doing and I also had a lot confidence in my team, it wasn’t all on me.”Former SouthLake Christian football coach Geoff O’Donnell, who coached the Eagles to their first state title before stepping down earlier this year, was equally impressed.“I think that game says everything you need to know about Riley,” said O’Donnell. “A lot of guys would have been nervous (about playing quarterback in state title game), but (Riley) just took it in stride and did his thing. He is just one of those kids who shows up, punches in and do what he has to and doesn’t say a lot, and then punches out. You don’t see that often.”While Zayicek has established himself as key player on the football team, his first love is actually baseball, where he started hitting off a tee at 3 years old.After an ankle injury limited his freshman season on the SouthLake Christian baseball team, Zayicek has had a breakout sophomore year for the Eagles on the diamond.The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore third baseman is hitting .350 with a team-best four home runs and nine extra-base hits.A lot of his power has come from the teams’ 6:30 a.m. strength workouts five days a week, where Zayicek can now power clean 235 pounds, bench 255 pounds and squat 460 pounds.“Riley has come a long way in the last two seasons,” SouthLake Christian baseball coach Mike Causey said. “From last year to this year, his approach at the plate has improved a lot. He works count and has a phenomenal two-strike approach. Sometimes I forget he is just a sophomore. To have the foundation he has already, I think the sky is the limit for him, especially because of his work ethic on and off the field.”Zayicek is the cleanup batter in a SouthLake Christian lineup loaded with talent with fellow sophomores like David Stowers, Jackson Mead and Zack Dudan, seniors like Bradley Hallman, Devin Bagwell (Charlotte 49ers’ signee) and Kaelin Fuller, and juniors Corbin Hockensmith and Andrew Naspinski. The Eagles’ are 20-11 (through April 29), including 14-2 in the Metrolina Athletic Conference, winning the regular season league title. Zayicek has had some of the biggest plays for the team.Zayicek’s favorite moment of the baseball season came when he blasted a three-run game-winning home run against Wesleyan Christian with two strikes and two out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Zayicek hopes to have more memorable moments in the state playoffs, which begin May 10.This summer, Zayicek will be playing nine straight weeks with the Camo Dirtbags team up and down the East Coast. He hopes to garner even more college baseball attention. Duke, East Carolina, Mississippi State, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia Tech have already started to show interest, according to his father.While all the workouts, practice and games can make his schedule hectic at times, Zayicek says he wouldn’t have it any other way.“It’s kind of addictive after you see all of your hard work pay off,” Zayicek said. “When you hit a ball 400 feet or throw the ball further or harder or run faster, it feels great. That’s why you wake up at 5:30 in the morning, that’s why you keep working to get better all of the time.”
Tuesday, May. 06, 2014
SouthLake sophomore keeps busy with baseball and football
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less