Globe South Sports

An athlete tackles the big stuff

“I felt like I had to give back,’’ says Torin Zonfrelli, 17. “I felt like I had to give back,’’ says Torin Zonfrelli, 17. (Bill Greene/Globe Staff)
By Colleen Casey
Globe Correspondent / July 24, 2011

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Torin Zonfrelli was walking around Cambridge last fall while visiting his brother, Anthony, at Harvard. Moved by the number of people that he saw living on the street, the Carver teen felt obligated to relieve the plight of the homeless, and started his own foundation, The Zonfrelli Project.

“I felt like I had to give back and help everyone that’s struggling,’’ said the 17-year-old Zonfrelli, a three-sport stalwart entering his senior year at Tabor Academy in Marion.

The goal of the project is to provide homeless and needy families with food.

Zonfrelli started by collecting food products from the Tabor Academy community, and then asked his family and local businesses to donate food, such as bread and cereals.

“Thursdays we help out the church food pantry and feed struggling families at St. Anthony’s in New Bedford,’’ he said. His mindset: “Even if we don’t have a lot, we still have more than some people do.’’

His brother lauded the selfless effort. “It’s impressive he has the initiative to do this. He puts in extra work when he doesn’t have to,’’ said Anthony Zonfrelli, a rising sophomore at Harvard.

Zonfrelli’s service didn’t stop with the “Z’’ Project.

After tornadoes carved a destructive path through several communities in Western Massachusetts last month, the Zonfrellis gathered clothes to donate to the victims.

“We helped families clean up debris, move branches and trees, and helped organize collecting clothes,’’ he said.

His community service is going global very shortly. Tomorrow, he and his brother leave for New Zealand, where they plan to instruct underprivileged children on the finer points of rugby and wrestling.“I go to Tabor Academy and I’m so fortunate to go there,’’ said Zonfrelli, a captain-elect on both the football and wrestling teams. “I’m privileged. It’s nice to give back to people who are less fortunate.’’

“It’s going to be a fun trip,’’ said brother Anthony. “Who better to spend it with than my brother?’’

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Zonfrelli attacks his charitable work with the determination and passion that he applies to opposing running backs on the gridiron or foes on the wrestling mat.

“It’s amazing he can play on the field with some of the kids we play against, he’s a smaller guy,’’ said John Crosby, defensive coordinator for Tabor’s football squad. The hard-hitting middle linebacker, said Crosby, is one of the most intelligent players he’s ever met.

“He never, never makes the same mistake twice. Torin’s dedicated and fearless. This is a kid who’s willed himself to be outstanding. He’s a leader and well-respected guy because of the way he goes about doing stuff. I wish we had a team full of guys like him.’’

On the mat, too, his work has been impressive. A former New England Prep champion, Zonfrelli recently captured a gold medal at 160 pounds at the Bay State Summer Games. He was also one of six recipients statewide of a $2,000 scholarship from the foundation that runs the games for excelling on and off the field. “A lot of work went into getting that scholarship,’’ he said. “Hard work pays off.’’

“Wrestling practice by far is the hardest practice anyone can ever go through,’’ said Zonfrelli, who plans to grapple at either 152 or 160 pounds this winter.

“If I need to make weight, I’ll swim before school at 5 a.m. Sometimes I’ll go running or lifting after practice as well.’’

Zonfrelli and his brother have a wrestling mat in a practice room at their home. “We practice in our room a lot,’’ said Anthony Zonfrelli. “Anything we learn at a camp or practice, we’ll teach the other one. We’ve had some pretty heavy matches between the two of us.’’

Tabor wrestling coach Conan Leary said Zonfrelli is a rock for the team.

“He leads by example,’’ he said. “In the wrestling room he’s the first one to start drills or the first one to help someone out. When he wins, he’s a gentleman and when he loses, he loses as a gentleman. He doesn’t lose often, though.

“The way Torin carries himself is beyond championships. All the stuff he’s able to do outside the wrestling room, academically, in the community, is wonderful.’’

Among his numerous honors, he received the Bratimayer Award his freshman, sophomore, and junior years at Tabor for scholastic achievement and “quiet determination to contribute to the well-being of the school community.’’

Kris Zonfrelli said that she and her husband, Barry, are proud of both their children. “Torin works really hard and always gives more than 100 percent in everything,’’ she said.

Zonfrelli hopes to continue playing football, and wrestle, likely at a Division 3 program.

“He’s a great little brother. I’m amazed at all his accomplishments,’’ said Anthony Zonfrelli.

Colleen Casey can be reached at