Wildcats football’s Zach Van Bennekum chooses Carnegie Mellon

West Ranch senior Zach Van Bennekum picks off Austin Garcia in a Foothill League matchup with Golden Valley at Harry Welch Stadium during the 2019-20 season. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Throughout the college recruiting process, Zach Van Bennekum was looking for the perfect combination of academics and athletics. 

On Dec. 15, the West Ranch football alumnus was confident that he had found the best of both when he committed to play football at Carnegie Mellon University.

“Carnegie Mellon is a top academic school and athletically, they’re pretty good so it was a perfect combination,” he said.

Last season, the NCAA Division 3 Tartans finished 8-3 overall and continued into the postseason by earning a spot in the ECAC Scotty Whitelaw Bowl. From an academic standpoint, Van Bennekum plans to major in information systems, a program that has a 26% acceptance rate at Carnegie Mellon.

In addition to having athletics and academics, Van Bennekum felt comfortable with the team when he took an unofficial visit to the Pittsburgh campus in November.

“A lot of the guys … they all loved football, they’re all very dedicated to the game but they also had a great side of academics,” Van Bennekum said. “That’s the kind of culture I want to be a part of.”

Van Bennekum said that the hardest part of the recruiting process for him was gaining attention from coaches and recruiters.

“Sending your film out constantly, that was the big part I was doing,” he said. “Sending my film to as many people as possible, meet people at camps, you’ve got to work hard at the camps. It’s your time to shine there.”

An impressive season with the Wildcats boded well for Van Bennekum. In his senior year, he played at both tight end and linebacker for the Cats as they completed their longest season in program history. West Ranch ended its season in the CIF-Southern Section Division 7 semifinals.

Van Bennekum was recruited as a linebacker by Carnegie Mellon and in his senior year at the position, racked up 98 total tackles and three sacks. He also had six interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

On offense, he had 60 receptions for 736 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“I had an unbelievable experience there,” Van Bennekum said. “I’m very thankful for my teammates, made some lifelong friends, couldn’t have done it without my family, friends and definitely coaches.”

Before starting the fall semester at Carnegie Mellon, Van Bennekum plans to take an official visit in a few months. Going far from home for college was a goal of his, but having family in New Hampshire and Maine has eased his mind about going so far east.

“I love California, but I did want to experience something else,” he said. “I wanted to have the next four years to get a new perspective.”

With the Tartans seemingly having everything that Van Bennekum wants, a new perspective academically and athletically should come easily as well.

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