Metal Meets the Gridiron

After a day of intense football practice, players have some sort of ritual to cool down and chill. These athletes might tune down and take a nap or hang out with friends, but junior defensive lineman Max Zart turns up the volume on his headphones instead.

“It’s not like my parents care about the noise,” Zart said jokingly.

Zart, a native of Concord, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, grew up with music instilled into his daily life through his father, Dave, who had been performing with a metal band since 1982.

“I grew up hearing his band practice and play,” said Zart. “All of the music he listened to, I listened to as well growing up…it was inherited, I guess you could say.”

Rock and metal were some of the music the Zart family would listen to consistently, with Queen and Led Zeppelin being two bands that constantly played in the car or the household.

Naturally, Zart would watch his father practice and perform with his band, smashing snares and cymbals as he played the drums. This would inspire Zart early on in his life to begin playing the drums as well, which he would crash into during fourth grade.

Along the way, he received tips from his father, but Zart stresses that he never forced him to keep playing – it was all his choice.

“My parents didn’t really push me with anything,” said Zart. “It was basically all up to me to play the drums. The same went with football, and all of the other major decisions in my life, which I am grateful for.”

Zart had an incredible dedication to his drum set during his formative years, but as his football commitment increased astronomically after two or three years, his allotted playing time with the drums waned away.

Zart stayed away from his drum set until the summer of 2018, his junior year of high school. He credits this time frame as the moment when he began listening deeply to music and began applying music theory to whatever he was listening to.

“I was listening to Judas Priest a lot at the time,” said Zart. “In a YouTube video I was watching, someone played a song by them from the ‘Sin After Sin’ album and I knew they were one of my dad’s favorite bands. I talked to him about them a bunch and he had a lot of their CDs and stuff, so I credit them for luring me back in.”

Even though he was ramping up his football play to show off to college scouts, he knew he still had to find a way to devote some time to music. Zart would quickly realize that his rejuvenated passion for music didn’t hurt his football career, and in 2020, he committed to Marist’s football program.

During his COVID-affected freshman year, Marist didn’t play football, so he didn’t have as many athletic commitments after he practiced with his small pod of teammates. This change allowed him to join the college’s guitar ensemble, where he would continue his drumming career.

He was a rare breed on campus, an athlete and a musician, and he felt as if students and faculty were taken aback by that at first.

“I’m not the type of person who’s regularly involved with the other ensembles here at Marist,” said Zart. “I don’t think they were a huge fan of that difference, and having a football player do music I guess was just taboo to them.”

This awkward relationship led to people within the music department telling Zart that he couldn’t keep playing in the guitar ensemble unless he joined the college’s marching band, which went against the statement on the section about music ensembles on Marist’s website. It reads, “Offered every semester, members of this ensemble are not required to be members of the Marist College Band.”

It’s obvious why Zart couldn’t join the marching band – he was already part of the action on the field.

“This unfair treatment based on my athletic background prompted me to send an email to President Weinman,” Zart said. “The department never bothered me again after that.”

Zart has since continued to play with the guitar ensemble, and as his schedule tightened up with a greater football commitment post-COVID, he has begun to see the intersection between playing football and playing an instrument.

“Since I’ve played football longer than I have played the drums consistently, I’m used to putting in a certain amount of time each day to get better at something,” said Zart. “I know that I’m going to have to sit down on the drums for an hour a day if I want to become legitimately good at it, and this mentality comes directly from me playing football and has helped me get better with the instrument.”

In 2022, Zart was expected to see an increased role on the Red Fox defensive line after not appearing in any games during his first true season of play in 2021. Before he could make his breakout, the unthinkable happened.

He tore his ACL during practice.

This would be a difficult time for Zart as it meant that not only would he be out for the entire season, but the injury also stopped him from being able to play the drums for a short period.

“It’s quite difficult to play the drums with a knee that’s straight and completely bandaged up,” said Zart. “However, music, in general, took on a bigger role and definitely helped me cope with not being able to go out on the field.”

During this time, Zart turned to another one of his passions—photography—to give himself something to do during practices and gamedays, but Zart also had the privilege to give some say to what music was played during weight room sessions.

“[Aaron] Suma, the schoolwide strength and conditioning coach, loves rock and metal, as well as a few other coaches on our staff,” Zart said. “It was usually during our Friday lifts where I got to pick some music that I liked, and I would send this curated playlist to our linebackers coach [Mike Kagafas] who controlled the music. I would instantly recognize that it was my playlist because it had songs no one else would pick, and I would geek out.”

By winter break, even though he still wasn’t cleared to play football, he was able to go back and play the drums, and because he couldn’t do any football training, he was able to chop his snares however much he wanted. It wouldn’t be long before he acquired a new musical passion, however.

“For Christmas this past year, my parents got me a guitar, which I had never played in my life up to that point,” said Zart. “I’m now in the process of learning guitar to go along with my continuing practice with the drums.”

With his new guitar, it is much more accessible to practice music while living on campus since it’s quieter to play than the drums, so he could pick up his guitar and play it in his room. To play drums on campus, he has to walk over to the music department and see if anyone is in the practice room. If no one is there, he has free reign to play, but it’s not as easy as his guitar.

Even though he has been in an ensemble, Zart wanted to take the next step and eventually join a real, touring band.

“Playing music with other people is really the goal for all musicians,” said Zart. “Playing by yourself is fun, but you want to play with other people, in front of people. That is the maximum experience.”

That dream for Zart came true in April when he became a founding member of “308” with fellow Marist students Aidan Larenas, Dan DeFranco, Pat Casella, and Deanna LaGreca. Following in his father’s footsteps, Zart is the drummer of the group, and he provides vocals as well.

Per the group’s official Instagram page, they claim to be “Marist’s premier rock and roll quintet,” and if Zart’s dedication to his craft applies here, that just might be the truth.

The band had their first performance on Apr. 26, where they rocked the Champagnat Pavilion in front of a supportive student audience.

Zart knows that he doesn’t have much longer in his football career, and while he’s excelling in the classroom, appearing on the PFL Academic Honor Roll in all his years at Marist to this point, he wants to make sure that he can continue playing music no matter his career path.

“Football isn’t going to last forever,” said Zart. “But playing the drums, I can keep playing them until I’m in a hospital bed!”

Let’s hope that he isn’t in a hospital bed anytime soon. But until then, don’t expect him to put down his drumsticks ever again.

Edited by Jonathan Kinane

Photo from 308

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