Notre Dame's Preston Zinter following older brother's blueprint to start his college football career
SOUTH BEND — Preston Zinter knows what it is like to go to the College Football Playoff because he has been there — twice.
Of course, it was as a fan.
Zinter, a Notre Dame freshman linebacker, was at the past two CFPs, two years ago at the Orange Bowl and last year at the Fiesta Bowl, supporting his older brother, Zak, who is an offensive lineman at Michigan.
"Definitely super cool for me to see my brother go for that," Zinter said during last week's Notre Dame player availability. "It also puts into perspective what they had to do, all the hard work they put in to get to that goal. And I think definitely we're putting in that work here to reach those goals."
Like his older brother did with the Wolverines in January 2020, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Preston Zinter began his college career as an early enrollee, along with 11 other freshman in Notre Dame's 2023 recruiting class. He said seeing the advantages Zak had, like getting the playbook early as well as strength and conditioning programs, influenced that decision.
Zak offered Preston some advice about starting college early: Put your head down and work.
"He said that's the best way to earn the respect of all the other guys and stuff like that," Preston Zinter said. "So, that's what my goal was coming here, earn my respect, and just be able to hold my own with these all these older guys."
And in Notre Dame's linebacker room there are a lot of them. Outside of Bo Bauer, who missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL, the rest of the Irish linebacker corps are back, including seniors JD Bertrand, who led Notre Dame's defense with 82 tackles last year, Marist Liufau (51 tackles) and grad student Jack Kiser (59 tackles).
Zinter said second-year defense coordinator Al Golden has preached to his new linebackers, including Drayk Bowen and Jaiden Ausberry who also early-enrolled, to learn all three positions of Mike, Will and Rover. That is where Zinter said he spent most of his playing time during his senior high school season at Central Catholic in Massachusetts.
There could also be situations where Zinter moves up to the line in a five-man front as a VYPER, a position left vacant by the departures of Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola, who each declared for this year's NFL Draft.
With so much to already learn, Zinter has taken full advantage of the experience rather than dwell on potential playing time that may, or may not come, this season.
"We'll go down there after classes into the linebacker room and go over the plays and all that kind of stuff," Zinter said. "It's definitely going to be harder to work in some playing time, but if I can get in the rotation and show that I can make plays I feel I'll be able to get myself on the field."
Just as his older brother did in Ann Arbor. Zak Zinter made four starts during his true freshman season and 26 starts since then.
Ultimately, Zak decided against declaring for this year's NFL Draft, which didn't surprise Preston given he, and the Wolverines, had "unfinished business."
And if that were to somehow lead to a Notre Dame-Michigan game down the line this fall, that would be okay with Preston.
"That'd be interesting," he said. "Something exciting for my family and my friends. ... Best brother wins, I guess."