Zach Sieler of Pinckney, Mich. wasn’t considered much of a prospect to play college football, yet he became a two-time NCAA Division II All-American at Ferris State after arriving on campus as a walk-on.
So who’s to tell someone who has already exceeded expectations that football players from Ferris State aren’t supposed to have NFL dreams?
Sieler has taken the next step toward a lifelong goal, leaving Ferris State one year early to enter the NFL draft.
The Bulldogs have produced eight NFL players, but none were drafted. Sieler hopes that changes when the league holds its draft April 26-28 in Arlington, Texas.
“I’m very excited,” Sieler said. “For me, it feels like it’s a big step, and I feel like I’ve made the right decision. I’m just ready to move on and see where God takes me.”
It’s a decision that Sieler kept on the backburner while he completed work on his degree in mechanical engineering technology and helped Ferris State reach the national quarterfinals.
Now that he’s graduated and was a finalist for the Cliff Harris National Small College Defensive Player of the Year award for the second time, Sieler felt it was time to give pro football a shot.
“I didn’t want to think about it during the season,” said Sieler, a three-time GLIAC All-Academic honoree. “I didn’t want to get wrapped up in it. I wanted to just play football. After the season, I got my degree and started going over things more. I laid out my options, thought about what was best, and this is what I came up with.
“A few scouts came during the season. I’d say the best guess would be late rounds to undrafted free agent.”
As a sophomore in 2016, Sieler set school records with 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for losses. With a target on his back in 2017, he had seven sacks and 21 tackles for losses.
His 58 tackles for losses in three seasons are a school record. He matched the school record of 33 career sacks.
“I went to Ferris for the engineering program,” Sieler said. “I had some scholarship money there. It was always a goal of mine. I was discouraged not getting attention come signing time. My dad kept pushing me and telling me it’s going to work out. He said, ‘Don’t worry about that; good things will happen.’ I pushed through the first two years, which was very tough, being a walk-on. I started to see light at the end of the tunnel and just took it and ran with it.”
Few could have imagined such success for Sieler when he came out of high school in 2013, but one of those who believed in him was Rod Beaton. Beaton is Pinckney’s current head coach and was the defensive coordinator during Sieler’s senior season in 2012.
Beaton said colleges were turned off by Sieler’s size coming out of high school, but he went from 6-foot-5, 220 pounds to 6-6, 290 by his junior season at Ferris State.
“He’s still just as quick,” Beaton said. “He’s got a tremendous first step. He gets off the ball like no other. Watching him, we’ve always said, and I honestly truly believe, he could play in the NFL.”
Sieler is in Atlanta training at the Chip Smith Performance Center, preparing for pro days at various colleges in Michigan. He isn’t playing in any postseason all-star games, hoping to get an invitation to the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 27 to March 5 in Indianapolis.
“When you’re a kid, you’re watching the pros and watch what they’re doing,” Sieler said. “You always hope you can; it’s just a matter if it ever pans out. With all my hard work, it feels great to be this close now.”
Ferris State had three players in the NFL last season: tight end Jason Vander Laan (Indianapolis), linebacker Brady Sheldon (Oakland) and wide receiver Jake Lampman (Tampa Bay).
“This is a great opportunity for Zach to realize a dream of playing professional football," Ferris State coach Tony Annese said in a release. "While we will certainly miss his play as one of the country's top players on the field, we're also losing a tremendous young man and leader who put forth a large amount of time and energy in helping our program grow. Most importantly, Zach is also leaving FSU with his degree in hand.”