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UTEP makes an offer to Canisius LB Zaffram

There’s no doubting Brad Zaffram’s football ability. He is tough and gifted with blazing speed, the perfect combination for a middle linebacker. He is a Division I college linebacker.

His reputation took a hit, though, when Canisius High officials announced his suspension for the postseason for violating school rules.

With the Division I football signing period set to start Feb. 4, the three-time All-Western New York selection and Canisius senior has finally received an offer, as the University of Texas at El Paso becomes the first Football Bowl Subdivision member poised to make an investment in the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder.

Zaffram said he will make his official visit to the school this weekend. National signing day is Feb. 4, but the signing period for Division I football runs through April 1.

“I think it’s a great second chance for him that he’s able to get a scholarship,” Canisius coach Rich Robbins said. “I think it speaks to his ability as a player. I think that speaks to Brad when the coaching staff sat down with him and got to meet him, they obviously investigated the situation fully and they’re still willing to stake a quarter of a million dollar scholarship on a kid. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Brad to continue his football career at the highest level.”

Zaffram was having arguably the best season of his high school career and worked himself into the mix for Buffalo News Player of the Year honors until he was suspended for the playoffs. Sources later told The News it was a cheating allegation during a school examination.

That’s not the type of information a Division I recruit wants out there, considering scouts take a player’s character into consideration when making scholarship offers.

“It’s good they’re giving me this opportunity,” Zaffram said after receiving a visit from UTEP coach and Lockport native Sean Kugler and his offensive coordinator Patrick Higgins of Pendleton on Wednesday. “With all the stuff that’s happened, they believe in me. ... It’s an unreal feeling. It’s what I’ve been working for since I started playing football in seventh grade.”

Will this offer cause others to come out of the woodwork?

“Anything can happen up until signing day,” Robbins said.

“Sometimes it has a domino effect. When one school offers then all the other schools in that conference will say ‘who is this guy?’ So you never know.”

Even though Zaffram only played nine of 12 games for the state Catholic champions, he still led the Crusaders with 91 tackles, including 19 for loss, and made 1.5 sacks.

He was seemingly in on almost every tackle in a 17-0 win at St. Joe’s back in Week Five before leaving after the third quarter to attend a family wedding.

He also played well in the Crusaders’ Week Four win at Jamestown where he made impact plays on both sides of the ball, scoring two touchdowns as a fullback, and fueling a defense that held Jamestown to season-low point (14) and yardage (180) totals.

Zaffram, who also has received interest from Division I-FCS members Robert Morris and Central Connecticut, transferred to Canisius from Sweet Home following his sophomore year and helped the Crusaders become one of the most feared defensive units in the state. Canisius yielded roughly 140 yards per game while amassing a 21-2 record and winning two Monsignor Martin titles during his time with the program.

UTEP is a member of Conference USA and Kugler, a former Buffalo Bills assistant, just completed his second season with the Miners.

UTEP dropped a 21-6 decision to Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl last month.

Kugler and Higgins aren’t the only local connections. Augie Touris, a former teammate of Zaffram’s at Canisius, is a freshman defensive end at UTEP. Touris graduated from Canisius in 2014 and will serve as Zaffram’s host during the visit.

• News Player of the Year TJ Wheatley missed last Saturday’s heavyweight basketball game between the Crusaders and McKinley because he made his official visit to Alabama. The highly coveted tight end/defensive end has already visited USC and plans to check out UCLA this weekend and Oregon the next before making his decision.