ESTERO — When Zach Culvahouse arrived at Estero High School four years ago, there was no indication that a future college wide receiver had just walked through the door.
After all, Culvahouse had never played football, he weighed a meager 130 pounds and his primary sport was baseball.
All that was about to change.
“As soon as I hit high school, I told my mom I wanted to try football. She said alright,” Culvahouse said.
Forty-five pounds and more than 2,000 receiving yards later, it’s obvious that football is now the No. 1 athletic endeavor for the hard-working senior wide receiver.
Further proof came Wednesday afternoon when Culvahouse — accompanied by his parents, Penny and Chad, both of whom are Estero alums — signed with Wittenberg University for football. A red and white Wittenberg banner occupied a wall in an Estero conference room that was packed with administrators, coaches and teammates as Culvahouse signed while proudly wearing a gray T-shirt of his future team.
“I’m really excited about it,” Culvahouse said. “I can’t wait for my opportunity up there. I start all over. I have to prove myself again and show that I can play.”
Estero coach Rich Dombroski said Wittenberg — a Division III program in Springfield, Ohio — will be receiving a player whose determination on the field and in the weight room has served as an example for others to follow. That 130-pound freshman turned into a 175-pound senior who now bench presses 270 pounds.
“He’s one of the hardest workers we’ve had. He’s been that way for three years. It’s well-deserved,” Dombroski said. “You get more out of Zach than you’d expect. He has the mentality that nothing is going to stop him.”
Opponents had trouble stopping the 5-foot-9 Culvahouse, whose quickness and strength often helped him turn short catches into big gains.
“You put Zach Culvahouse in a space with the football and great things are going to happen. I know the coaches at Wittenberg see that,” Dombroski said.
Culvahouse led Estero in receiving yards in each of his three seasons on varsity. His senior campaign featured 897 yards and 56 catches, including a team-high nine touchdowns. He eclipsed the 100-yard plateau six times in his final year and had two games with 10 catches each. He finished with 2,167 career receiving yards for the pass-orientated Wildcats.
Culvahouse found a lot to like about Wittenberg during a visit to the school last month.
“The campus is beautiful,” said Culvahouse, whose father is a native of Dayton, Ohio. “Nice people there. It’s a tip-top (football) program. The weight room is amazing. The coaches are always there pushing you, trying to make you better. It’s a real good staff. They know how to win.”
Indeed they do. Wittenberg has a 144-33 record during the tenure of head coach Joe Fincham.
Even though football was his focus during the signing ceremony, there’s still some baseball left in Culvahouse. In fact, he’s blossomed into one of the top hitters in the area this season with a .455 batting average for Estero, although an injury recently sidelined him.
As for playing football this fall in a climate that’s far cooler than balmy Southwest Florida, Culvahouse said he’s ready to make the adjustment.
“I still have to catch the ball,” he said. “That’s not an excuse for me.”