Nolan Ziegler named Michigan AP D5-6 football player of year
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — It was no secret that Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior Nolan Ziegler was one of Michigan’s top players heading into the 2021 high school football season.
Ziegler, a standout strong safety and linebacker, had already committed to Notre Dame even before his junior season began.
What might have surprised everyone outside of the Catholic Central community was just how talented an athlete the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Ziegler is on the field.
The Cougars, who won their third consecutive state championship this fall, graduated standout receiver Jace Williams after last year’s title. Catholic Central was then forced to move wide receiver John Passinault to quarterback after two-time state champion Joey Silveri suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4. Ziegler suddenly found himself as Catholic Central’s go-to receiver after catching just four passes his previous two years combined.
Ziegler finished the season with 67 catches for 1,343 yards and 25 touchdowns.
His efforts on both sides of the ball have earned him Michigan Associated Press Division 5-6 Player of the Year.
“They are certainly eye-popping statistics, but it did not surprise us, and it did not surprise his teammates and coaches,” Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster said. “But for other people who didn’t know what he was about might think he was just some linebacker going to Notre Dame.
“He is just a great athlete. I think that’s the difference. People ask what’s the difference between a player going to Notre Dame and someone who is going to a smaller school. The difference is those guys are at a certain level, and he certainly is.”
Ziegler continued to spearhead a defense that allowed a combined 19 points in its five postseason victories, including a 31-7 win over Marine City in the Division 5 state title game at Ford Field. Ziegler, who is a Butkus Award finalist, had 13 tackles in the game. He had 105 for the season and seven sacks plus a pick-6.
“It’s great to be recognized because it shows the hard work that I’ve put in over the years,” Ziegler said about earning Michigan AP Player of the Year. “It definitely means a lot.”
Catholic Central has won five state titles in the past six years. The Cougars also have the state’s longest winning streak. Their victory over Marine City was their 37th consecutive win.
Kolster said Ziegler’s influence will have a positive impact for years to come.
“I’ve said it a lot, but he is just a special guy just in terms of his work ethic and commitment to the team and his teammates,” Kolster said. “He has developed a really great rapport not only with his senior teammates, but the young guys. He is great with our young guys coming in. He is very helpful with the freshmen and sophomores and juniors.
“He understands all the expectations of being part of something great. He has been able to stay humble, and that’s a tough thing. You are a sophomore, and you get as much attention as he has received and scholarship offers from all over the country. To stay hungry and humble is just a true credit to him. We are fortunate to have great kids like him in our program.”
Ziegler was joined on the Division 5-6 All-State first team by Passinault and junior lineman Nate VanTimmeren. Catholic Central senior linebacker Jack Klafeta was a second-team selection.
“What I’m going to remember most are the friends that I’ve made and how my friends and coaches helped me become the best player that I can be,” Ziegler said.