Nick Zieler '06
Zieler racked up nine tackles in last season's 13-10 homecoming victory over Little Three archrival Williams.

Amherst's Zieler Looks to Lead Jeffs to Sixth Straight 2-0 Start

September 26, 2005

AMHERST, MA - "I welcome the challenge." This statement encompasses the football career of Amherst College senior tri-captain cornerback Nick Zieler (Chicago, IL) . He welcomed the challenge of a new sport at a new high school, he welcomed the challenge of a new position in a veteran secondary as an underclassman and he now welcomes the challenge of leading a youthful Amherst secondary into a daunting NESCAC schedule in the Jeffs' pursuit of a second consecutive Little Three crown.

Zieler picked up the game of football as a freshman at Brother Rice High School, a Catholic, all-boys institution in Chicago, Ill. A young, talented baseball player, he attended Brother Rice with the hope that playing in a prominent high school program would help his college recruiting in the long run. "I'd always gone to public schools growing up," said Zieler. "I didn't really know anyone at Brother Rice and I had no idea what to expect. It was very intimidating."

Never really having played much football before, Zieler joined the team as a wide receiver, and what began as something to do in the offseason became his passion. After a successful high school career, he decided to continue his career at Amherst, where he made the team, again as a wide receiver. However, injuries plagued his rookie campaign as he faced some hamstring problems and ended up missing most of the season. "I kept trying to come back too early and ended up reinjuring myself, but in the end this was how I made my way to the defensive side of the ball," Zieler said.

Healthy and ready to play with three games left in the season, Zieler served as a cornerback on the scout team defense, where he saw marginal success. "To be honest," said Amherst head coach E.J. Mills, "I wanted Nick to play defense from the start. In the recruiting process, we were very big on his size and strength, and selfishly [Mills also serves as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach] I wanted him to be on my side of the ball."

So Zieler made the switch to defense and found a new challenge. "Coach Mills really stresses the importance of the secondary," Zieler said. "He works us very hard, running more and staying in longer meetings because he sees it as a key component to the defense." He continued, "Let's say there's a long run, you can't always tell who's to blame, but if there's a long pass, the finger gets pointed straight at us. That's why we practice so hard, to prevent things like that from happening."

A veteran-laden secondary, highlighted by standout All-NESCAC cornerback Paul Whiting '04, provided Zieler with lots of help and information in his new position. "Paul really took me under his wing," said Zieler. "I would stay with him on trips to away games, and he spent a lot of time going over everything with me before games, making sure I was sound. He taught me the basics of the position and how to play loose and within myself."

Whiting's tutelage came in handy for Zieler as Whiting went down with a hand injury, forcing Zieler into the starting lineup for a tough NESCAC matchup at Tufts. "I was really nervous going in as it was my first college game," he said. "I just took all the advice that Coach Mills and my teammates had given me and did my best." Zieler responded to the challenge, tallying five tackles and a pass breakup in his first start, and followed with a trio of takedowns and another pass deflection in a near-upset of visiting Trinity the following weekend. "These two starts really gave me the confidence to know that I could get it done," added Zieler. "You just need that reassurance to switch from being timid to breaking out." He illustrated that break-out ability in his junior campaign, starting all eight games and piling up 39 tackles, including 22 solo takedowns, and five pass breakups.

Now the lone senior, and only returner with significant playing time in an Amherst secondary that was ravaged by graduation last spring, Zieler looks to give back all the knowledge and support he was given as an underclassman. "I'm really excited to be a senior. I've got a lot of great kids underneath me who are willing to listen, and listen to me which is funny as I was the one listening for the last two years."

While Zieler is very excited, he also knows that Mills expects a lot from him. "There's no question, that there's a lot on Nick's plate," said Mills. "As a senior and an elected captain, we need him to step up and lead this young group." Mills continued, "However, there's no question that he will do a great job. His best form of leadership is leading by example, just getting out there and getting it done. He has great work ethic and intensity."

One of the ways that Zieler provides great leadership for the underclassmen is through his physical fitness. At just 5'10", he carries 187 lbs. of solid muscle and is one of the team leaders in the weight room. With a maximum bench press of 385 lbs., more than twice his body weight, he is, pound-for-pound, one of the strongest players in the conference. "I've always loved working out and take a lot of pride in it," he said. "We have a great strength and conditioning program and it allows me to keep on pounds and stay strong." The countless hours he has spent lifting and training have transferred into great success on the field. "The extra weight and strength really help in games, jamming receivers and shaking off tackles."

A law, jurisprudence and social thought major, Zieler is a very relaxed guy off the field. "I exert all my time and energy into school and football, so when I get some time to myself I just want to chill," he added. He has also developed an offseason hobby that stems from his childhood passion for baseball. Sixteen-inch softball is played with a larger, softer ball than that of traditional softball. It is played with no gloves and it is significantly harder to hit the ball further. "It's getting big in Chicago," Zieler said. "My buddies and I play in a league together in the summers and have a lot of fun."

Not afraid of what comes, be it a new position on the field or a new group of teammates to help, Zieler attacks the challenge of the future as if it were the next play he faces on the gridiron.