'A lot of waiting' for Zach Sieler, Baltimore Ravens draft pick from Pinckney and Ferris Sta
Nothing has ever come easily in Zach Sieler’s football career, so why should draft day be any different?
He was unrecruited coming out of Pinckney High School and had to prove himself as a walk-on at NCAA Division II Ferris State.
After turning himself into an All-America defensive lineman and NFL prospect, Sieler waited with family and friends at his home in Pinckney until there were only 19 picks remaining to get the call from the Baltimore Ravens.
Sieler was a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, going 238th overall out of 256 players who were selected between Thursday and Saturday.
A player for whom there have been no shortcuts to success kept the faith as the opportunities to be drafted started to dwindle.
“It was a lot of waiting,” Sieler said. “The rounds just started going on forever and forever. We stayed strong and it ended up happening, which is awesome. I had some family up here and some friends down from Ferris, guys I’ve been with four or five years.
“We kept waiting and waiting and stayed confident. We had a plan and stuck to it. It’s just a blessing it finally happened.”
With the draft getting down to the final picks, Sieler was in contact with his agent about possible options for signing as an undrafted free agent.
The moment every football player dreams of came Saturday afternoon when his phone rang. On the other end was Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome.
Newsome, the architect of two Super Bowl-championship teams in Baltimore, made Sieler the final draft choice of his 22-year career with the Ravens. His first two picks, Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis in 1996, are pro football Hall of Famers.
“It was incredible,” Sieler said. “Obviously, during the draft, I wasn’t thinking about that. After that, I thought, ‘Wow, that was awesome.’”
There was pandemonium in the Sieler household when the call came.
“Everyone was just going nuts,” Sieler said. “Crying, screaming, everything you could think of just as you’d imagine.”
After everything settled down, it was time to head to popular Pinckney pub Zukey Lake Tavern for a celebration.
“Anyone who couldn’t make it during the day — obviously, we couldn’t have everyone here — we went there to say ‘thank you’ and how great all the support everyone’s given me has been all these years.”
Sieler is the first player from Pinckney and from Ferris State to be drafted by an NFL team. The last player from Livingston County to be drafted was Brighton resident Morgan Trent (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s/University of Michigan), who was taken in the sixth round by Cincinnati in 2009. The last player from a county school to be drafted was former Brighton quarterback Drew Henson, who was chosen in the sixth round by Houston in 2003.
"It's a great feather in our cap for him to be recognized in everything he's done and accomplished," said Pinckney head coach Rod Beaton, who was the Pirates' defensive coordinator during Sieler's season year.
"It's something that inspires and motivates a lot of our young guys in the program. It's always something they can strive for and it's always something they can look at for motivation and as a reality that, hey, these things are possible."
In high school, Sieler showed the potential to be great, but he split time between the junior varsity and varsity as a sophomore.
"You could see it was going to happen for him, but he was a long, gangly type of kid," said Dan Burkholder, Pinckney's varsity head coach when Sieler was a sophomore and junior.
"You could see he had big hands, big feet and had this long neck. I knew his dad, Randy. I said, 'One of these days, this kid is going to fill out, he's going to be a big, big kid. He could run. Even as a junior, my last year at Pinckney, the point was that people were missing out on this kid; he's got a huge upside. For whatever reason, no one could see that."
Sieler realizes that being drafted isn’t a guarantee he will suit up for the Ravens on opening day Sept. 9 against Buffalo. As a seventh-round pick, he has less room for error during training camp and the preseason than someone in whom an early pick was invested.
“Now it’s finally like putting a cap on all of it,” Sieler said. “It recognizes everything on top of this point. Now I’ve just started working on my NFL career. That was the start. People say, ‘You got drafted, you’re in.’ This is the start. I’m excited.”
The work of impressing the Ravens’ coaches begins this weekend when Sieler attends the team’s rookie minicamp.
Sieler made an unusual move for a small-college player, leaving Ferris one year early to declare for the draft. He had already accomplished everything he could individually for the Bulldogs, tying a school record with 33 career sacks and setting the record with 58 tackles for losses. He had school records of 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for losses in 2016.
Those performances got him noticed, but he wasn’t heavily scouted last season because he wasn’t expected to leave school early. The 6-foot-5¾, 288-pounder grabbed the attention of NFL scouts during his pro day by running the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, doing 31 reps on the bench press and producing a 30-inch vertical jump.
“He tested extremely well,” Baltimore director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said during the Ravens’ post-draft press conference.
“He plays hard. He drew a lot of attention at Ferris State. There were a lot of games where he would be triple-teamed and double-teamed. We’re excited to get him.”
The Ravens were one of the teams Sieler visited during the pre-draft process. He said the team likes his versatility, with plans to use him as a defensive end to provide a rush from the edge or as a tackle to pressure the quarterback from the inside.