Senior sports analyst Sam Zlot is way above average

Isabella Wagner

Stomping, clapping, chanting – the noise of the screaming fans drown out the referee’s whistle. Cheerleaders raise their pom poms and a football spirals through the air into the welcoming hands of a wide receiver. 

Amidst all of the action, there is a behind-the-scenes worker seated in the towering red press box above the bleachers: senior, and football team sports statistician, Sam Zlot. Overlooking yards of green turf and white stripes, he carefully observes the game, putting his sports analytic skills to the test. 

Nearly two years before, Zlot’s enthusiasm for both mathematics and sports sparked his interest in sports analytics, a practice where statistics are applied in real life. His fascination only furthered when he participated in a sports analytics class at Tulane University in the summer of 2021, prior to his junior year.

Inspired by his newfound knowledge, Zlot approached the varsity football coaches at the start of the 2021 season about compiling play-by-play statistics and analyzing film breakdowns for the team. The coaches accepted this request and allowed him to start working with the football players. 

“At first, the [coaches] were pretty skeptical because they hadn’t really used any analytics or statistics before. It was a lot for them to understand what I was doing and how it could make an impact,” Zlot said. 

After receiving approval from the coaches, football games have become a busy scene for Zlot. Throughout the four quarters, he critically watches the Giants and their opponents, all the while giving insight to the coaches.

Recording observations on his computer, Zlot sits in the press box during a game.

“During the game, I have my computer and spreadsheets going, to figure out if [the team] is running the ball to the right more, or if they’re running the ball to the left, or passing it really well,” Zlot said. “And then after the game, I’ll come back with more in-depth stats; for example, maybe we ran a certain play too many times which is why the [opponent] caught on.”

Zlot first excelled in his position in the third football game of last season when the coaches finally decided to utilize his reports in their game plan. 

“I told [the offensive coach] some insights on what direction to run the ball, and the next play was a run to that side. That was a big [moment] for me [because] I gained trust with the coaches,” Zlot said. “My favorite thing is [the coaches] using my work and putting it into the game plan and having it be successful.” 

Since then, Zlot has helped lead the football coaches and team to success. He is committed, attending the games as well as doing work on his own. Assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Estevan Chavez recognizes Zlot’s hard work and explains the role Zlot plays in aiding the team. 

“When I [put] our film on Hudl, [an app that works to capture and analyze videos], [Zlot] will go through our plays and break down our tendencies,” Chavez said. “In doing this, [Zlot] helps us figure out what is working for our team and what is not working.” 

By tendencies, Chavez refers to the Giants’ play habits and the runs or tackles they most commonly execute.

Zlot not only focuses on the Giants’ plays but also creates scouting reports on the opposing team so that the coaches can strategize for their upcoming games. This preparation is appreciated not only by the coaches but by the players as well. Senior and football captain Sam Janowsky expresses the importance of Zlot’s role in aiding the Giants against their opponents.

“With [Zlot] we’ve been able to understand the other teams’ schemes better and it’s just been helpful all-around. We know when we should run versus pass, or blitz versus not blitz,” Janowsky said. “All those things help us win the game in the end.”

Critically observing a game, Zlot looks out from the booth.

Zlot’s hard work demonstrates his dedication to both the coaches and players, which allows him to be recognized as a welcomed member of the team. Chavez acknowledges the effort Zlot has put into his position.

“[Zlot] to me is definitely one of the players on the team, and he’s treated that way. He’s helped us out in a lot of ways, more than I can explain,” Chavez said.

Janowsky also appreciates the positive impact Zlot has made on the team. 

“I can trust that the calls from the coaches are going to be good because I know there’s smart people like [Zlot] working up [in the booth], looking at [the game],” Janowsky said. 

Zlot’s skills do not stop with high school football. Recently, he has been in contact with the National Football League (NFL) Cincinnati Bengals’ analyst, gaining insight about how to improve his own role as a sports analyst. With hopes of continuing sports statistics at whichever college he attends in the future, Zlot’s connections and work are setting him up for success. 

As Zlot’s final high school football season as a sports analyst continues, he reflects on his experience and what it has provided for him. 

“I’ve learned how to communicate a lot better with different types of people,” Zlot said. “I’ve also learned a lot about statistics through a lot of trial and error, figuring out how to excel and how to visualize data.”