Dusty Zeigler’s football career is about to start again — but in a different direction.
The former professional football player, whose No. 56 ECHS football jersey hangs in the school gym in retirement, will be back on the Rebels sidelines this fall as defensive coordinator. For Zeigler, becoming a high school football coach is the realization of a goal.
“For me and my family, it means the world,” he said. “We’re all excited about it and fired up at the opportunity. It’s my life gameplan to coach high school football. And here I am with an opportunity with the grace and blessings of God.”
Zeigler was a Class AAAA first-team all-state selection in 1991. After a stellar high school career at Effingham County under coach Bob Griffith, Zeigler played at Notre Dame under coach Lou Holtz. He was a co-captain in his senior year as the Irish went 9-3 and lost to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
He was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round of the 1996 draft and played in Super Bowl XXXV with the New York Giants. Zeigler retired following the 2002 season.
During his four years in the shadow of “Touchdown Jesus” at South Bend and his seven-year NFL career, Zeigler continued to recall fondly his days at Rebel Field.
“Even in college, I envisioned myself trying to coach high school football,” he said. “It was the most fun level for me. Playing in college and the pros, I always went back to the fun and excitement and enthusiasm of high school football."
While Zeigler’s coaching career is about to start, he and Tomberlin have a connection. Tomberlin played for and coached with Griffith at Appling County.
“The good fortunes of football have allowed our paths to cross,” Zeigler said. “I look forward to learning a lot from Coach Tomberlin.”
Though Zeigler played offensive line at Notre Dame and in the NFL, he will be in charge of the Rebels defense under Tomberlin.
“It’s an exciting approach for me just to be on the other side of the ball,” he said. “When coach talked to me about the opportunity of doing that, I was that much more ecstatic about it. I think it’s going to be a very good experience for me.”
Coach Tomberlin said he wanted Zeigler on his staff, and the two originally discussed having Zeigler coach offensive line. Tomberlin had another candidate for his top defensive slot but that coach had to back out when his wife became a candidate for a principal’s position.
Tomberlin turned to Zeigler.
“I wanted to have someone to run my schemes and systems,” he said. “I knew Dusty had great experiences here and at Notre Dame and in the NFL.”
Though Zeigler is a newcomer to coaching, he and Tomberlin already have talked extensively and discussed football philosophies.
“He’s been around a lot of football,” Tomberlin said. “He’s a football person. He’s not going to see anything that is going to scare him.”
But Zeigler already has one high-profile position. Zeigler said he and ECHS Principal Yancy Ford discussed working around his current position as chairman of the county commissioners. The commissioners have two scheduled meetings per month, on the first Tuesday of the month at 8:30 a.m. and at 3 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month. Zeigler is also on the countywide transportation advisory board, which meets the mornings of the third Tuesday of the month.
“I talked with Yancy about trying to address both worlds,” Zeigler said. “I think we can get it done.”
Effingham County is currently in its “Rebelmakers” speed and agility voluntary workouts. Spring practice begins April 26, with the Blue-White game scheduled for May 7.