Lake Braddock's Matt Zanellato took a pass on his final season at run-based Robinson

Former Robinson receiver Matt Zanellato uprooted his life -- his parents purchased a new home -- so that he could join cross-town rival Lake Braddock and pass-happy QB Michael Nebrich. The move has paid dividends for Zanellato, a 6-foot-4 target that is one of the area's leading receivers. Zanellato takes on his former team Friday night at Lake Braddock. The Post's Paul Tenorio joins B.J. Koubaroulis in studio to break down the big game. Highlights and interviews.
By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 7:11 PM

A year ago, Matt Zanellato was the top wide receiver for Robinson, one of the area's most successful high school football programs. As a junior, he set a season school record for receptions, earned all-region honors for the second straight year, and led the Rams to a 10-2 record, their best since 2004.

This fall, Zanellato is the top wide receiver for fifth-ranked Lake Braddock, one of Robinson's rivals in the competitive Virginia AAA Northern Region. He transferred last winter, in part, to raise his profile as a college recruit, swapping the Rams' run-first offense for the Bruins' pass-happy attack.

His family sold its home and moved into the Lake Braddock district boundaries. His father Tim, who taught math at Robinson, took a new job at West Springfield. It was, according to his mother Christine, "a complete family commitment."

On Friday night, Lake Braddock (4-0) will host Robinson (3-1), the first meeting between the teams since the Bruins ended the Rams' season with a 38-7 victory in the playoffs last November. Zanellato's presence on the Bruins sideline will add another layer to what is already a heated rivalry between schools that sit less than four miles apart in Fairfax County.

"There's nothing I want more than to show Robinson fans and Robinson kids who don't like me . . . that I could be a great player and come off the field with a win," said Zanellato, who leads the area in receiving yards and touchdowns. "I want to win for my team. I know from a program standpoint, we want to win this not only 'cause they hate Lake Braddock, but because we want to be known as a dominant team."

A decision to look around

Not long after that playoff game, the Zanellatos had a meeting with Robinson Coach Mark Bendorf.

Bendorf, the 2004 All-Met Coach of the Year, is one of the most respected coaches in Northern Virginia, and his teams tend to have two defining qualities: they win, and they do so with a physical, run-first approach. His program has produced 12 All-Mets since he took over in 1997, but just two at offensive skill positions: running backs Mike Imoh (2001) and Marcus Howard (1997).

Among the topics addressed at the meeting was Zanellato's college recruiting and his role in the Rams' offense.

"The meeting went badly," Zanellato said.

His parents acknowledged the conversation grew contentious; Tim and Christine Zanellato said they did not enter the meeting with the intent of seeking a transfer, but "in the end, we looked at each other and said, 'You know, we've got to look around,'" said Tim Zanellato. Said Christine, of the meeting: "Matt was heartbroken."

Bendorf declined to comment.

In the meeting's aftermath, the Zanellatos began looking for another program to enhance Matt's college prospects. Among the high schools they reached out to was Lake Braddock, in nearby Burke. The Zanellatos spoke to Bruins Coach Jim Poythress, who relayed to his quarterback, Michael Nebrich, that one of the top receivers in the Northern Region was looking for a new school.

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