The lengthy and flattering article on NFL veteran Jeff Zgonina in the current issue of Sports Illustrated rekindled a lot of old memories of a time when he was building a reputation at Carmel of Mundelein and going through the recruiting process.
At Carmel, he was an outstanding and dominating defensive lineman, a blue-collar and aggressive player who was as tough as nails. But Notre Dame and Michigan didn't think he was good enough for their programs. I always felt more schools should have recruited him but few big-time schools thought he was a big-timer.
He was recruited by then Illinois assistant coach Bill Kollar along with Hersey's Frank Kmet, King's Payton Minter and Fremd's Jim Schwantz. But when the NCAA began to investigate Illini head coach Mike White, the recruiting became unglued. White was fired. I called Purdue coach Freddy Akers to recommend Kollar. Akers hired Kollar, who took Zgonina and the others with him.
I put Zgonina on my high school All-America team with Kmet, who led Hersey to the 1987 Class 6A championship. Now, at 39, he is the second-oldest player in the NFL, next to Brett Favre. And he never has been paid more than the NFL minimum (currently $860,000 a year), which is more than social security.
But who would have thought Zgonina, who had to put on a lot of weight to play in college and the NFL, would have persevered with eight teams for 17 years and 208 games in the NFL? To stay that long in the NFL means you have to possess an enormous amount of desire and persistence.
Zgonina, by any account, isn't a great player. He never has been an All-Pro selection and won't see his bust in Canton. But he has been good enough to never be cut for all of those years. He reminds of former De La Salle and Notre Dame player Renaldo Wynn, another longtime journeyman in the NFL who recently was cut by the Washington Redskins.