The Portland State University football team begins the 2019 season Saturday on one of the biggest stages in program history and Roseburg High graduate Zack Mandera will be right in the middle of the action, making his college football debut.
The Vikings visit Razorback Stadium in Fayatteville, Arkansas, to face the University of Arkansas from the Southeastern Conference. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Mandera, a true freshman, was named the starting middle linebacker for PSU and will make his first college start in front of the biggest crowd he’s ever played for.
“I’m nervous, but I’m also really excited,” Mandera said. “I’m going to need those first couple of plays to get all the jitters out.”
Even with a 2-10 overall record last season, the Razorbacks drew nearly 61,300 fans per game at Razorback Stadium. The stadium has a capacity of 76,000, making it the largest capacity stadium Portland State has ever played in.
“It’s obviously going to be a little different coming from high school football, a couple thousand people watching to 70,000,” Mandera said. “It’s going to be a little different rolling up in that stadium and all those people there.”
Mandera is the only true freshman listed as a starter for PSU in Week 1. The 2019 Roseburg High graduate and Southwest Conference defensive player of the year beat out two juniors, a sophomore and a redshirt freshman for the job.
“I think the big part was just staying focused every night and staying up on learning everything with film, keeping my body right. That way I’m not sore the next day and that way I can just focus on my mind,” Mandera said.
College football has been an around the clock endeavor for Mandera, who says he’s only been able to explore a small portion of his new home in Portland. With meetings, practices, workouts and film sessions, Mandera says it’s been a full-time job.
“Right now, the saying from the coaches is ‘we’re NFL football players right now,’” Mandera said. “We don’t have anything else to worry about besides football, especially the freshmen living in the dorms.
“I mean, you’re right next to the practice field and the meeting rooms and it’s pretty much football all day. We go from about six in the morning until about six at night, just dedicated to football. That’s with everybody and then afterwards is when you got to take the time yourself to do the little bit extra. Watching film and doing whatever you need to do to prepare yourself.”
The Vikings hit the road for Fayetteville on Thursday and the trip will be another first for Mandera, who has never flown on a plane.
Portland State will have a couple of practices to get familiar with Razorback Stadium and will kick off against Arkansas at 1 p.m. Saturday PDT. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.