Matt Zanellato Works To Increase Football Team’s THON Involvement

Matt Zanellato hadn’t heard of THON before his freshman year at Penn State, but when the 6-foot-3 junior wide receiver walked into the Bryce Jordan Center for his first THON three years ago, he was hooked. It was a message he relayed to coach James Franklin earlier this year.

“I had no idea about THON until I got here,” he said at Saturday afternoon’s annual Penn State football THON event, the THON explorers program at the Lasch building. “You can try to explain THON, but until you walk into the BJC, you really have no idea what it means.”

Zanellato then made it his mission to try to increase the football’s teams involvement in the annual event.

“At the end of the day we can do so much more through THON,” he said. “Football and THON are two of the biggest things at Penn State. That’s one of those things that I’ve taken the leadership in.”

Zanellato’s tried to dance in THON the past two years, but hasn’t been accepted. He said he’s considering one more effort for his senior year. One Saturday, at the football team’s event, he served as the unofficial player emcee, introducing himself and making several remarks about the efforts of his team and himself. Zanellato and his teammates led approximately 30 THON families around the Lasch facilities.

“It’s like a 1.5 million dollar jungle gym to them,” he said. “To see them run around, it’s a great time for them. I think it’s one of those moments where they’re truly just kids.”

Zanellato has been on the floor for the last several years, and has grown especially close to the football team’s families and children. He shared a story in which one of the older THON children, who had been at THON the previous year, was now too big to be hoisted on shoulders for water gun fights, a previously favorite activity.

But Zanellato’s football strength allowed him to lift the young child onto his shoulders. “We were the tallest combination on the floor at that point, it was a great moment,” he said.

Zanellato will again be on the THON floor for the student-athlete talent show Saturday night.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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