It was no secret that Nolan Ziegler, a Catholic senior with Grand Rapids Catholic Central, was one of Michigan’s best players heading into the 2021 high school football season.
Ziegler, an outstanding defenseman and linebacker, had already signed up for Notre-Dame even before the start of his junior season.
What might have surprised everyone outside the Central Catholic community is how talented Ziegler, 6ft 4in and 205lb, is.
The Cougars, who won their third straight state championship this fall, graduated from outstanding wide 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’s is suddenly found as Catholic Central’s preferred wide receiver after catching just four assists 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 earned him the Michigan Associated Press Division’s 5-6 Player of the Year.
“These are certainly mind-blowing statistics, but it didn’t surprise us, and it didn’t surprise his teammates and coaches,” Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster said. “But for other people who didn’t know what it was might think he was just a linebacker going to Notre Dame.
“He’s just a great athlete. I think that’s the difference. People ask what the difference is between a player who goes to Notre Dame and someone who goes to a small school. The difference is, these guys are on a certain level, and he sure is.
Ziegler continued to spearhead a defense that allowed a total of 19 points in its five playoff victories, including a 31-7 victory over Marine City in the State Title game. division 5 at Ford Field. Ziegler, who is a Butkus Award finalist, made 13 tackles in the game. He had 105 for the season and seven sacks plus a six pick.
“It’s great to be recognized because it shows the hard work I’ve done over the years,” Ziegler said of the Michigan AP player of the year. “It certainly means a lot. “
Catholic Central has won five state titles in the past six years. The Cougars also have the longest winning streak in the state. Their victory over Marine City was their 37th straight victory.
Kolster said Ziegler’s influence will have a positive impact for years to come.
“I’ve said it a lot, but he’s just a special guy in terms of work ethic and commitment to the team and his teammates,” said Kolster. “He has developed a very good relationship not only with his senior teammates, but also with the youngsters. He’s great with our young guys coming up. It is very useful with freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
“He understands all the expectations of being a part of something big. He knew how to remain humble, and that is a difficult thing. You are a sophomore and you get as much attention as it got and scholarship offers from all over the country. To stay hungry and humble is just a real honor for him. We are fortunate to have great children like him in our program.
Ziegler was joined on the first team of the 5-6 All-State Division by Passinault and junior lineman Nate VanTimmeren. Catholic Central senior linebacker Jack Klafeta was a second-team selection.
“What I will remember the most are the friends I made and how my friends and coaches have helped me become the best player I can be,” Ziegler said.
Meet the 2021 Michigan High School Football Team for Divisions 5-6
Meet the 2021 Michigan High School Football Team for Divisions 7-8
Meet the 2021 Associated Press All-State team for eight-player football