Memories of Jeff Zgonina

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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.

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3 Comments

Hey, I have respect for the Carmel's, St.Rita's, Providence, Lincolc Ways East, GlenBrook's, Morgan Park, Hubbard, Simeon and many other top producing programs.....but wow the suntimes don't give East St.Louis any reconition.....they have a great program and they're never in the top 25.....even after they win state......whats the politics with that.....

Ummm, TR, perhaps ESL isn't in the Sun Times Top 25 because ESL is not in the Sun Times circulation area. I do believe that ESL is ranked in other polls. I see them rated fourth behind Wheaton Warrenville South, Glenbard West, and Cary Grove in Class 7A in the Massey rankings. Other polls have ESL ranked number one. Saw them last year and they were terrific, high level size, speed, skills. Loved the way they played. Have you seen them this year, do they look as good as last year?

I read the outstanding article about Jeff Zgonina recently in a Doctor's Office in Melbourne Florida. I only wish we had more football players like Jeff Zgonina and Brett Favre. These guys, one on the star side of the equation and one on the journeyman side of the equation are the kind of players who bring old style heart and desire into what is called the "modern game". They are both tough as nails and both are still there because they love playing the game and always leave it all on the field. I am hoping that both of them get shots in the broadcasting booths when they retire. They are the kind of folks we need in NFL boradcasting because they both have talked the talk and walked the walk, and by now have seen it all. I also hope that Jeff's Rodeo Stock business lands him in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame one day out in Colorado Springs as there is a category for Rodeo Stock Owners. the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame is a great place for a man with a heart as bit as Jeff's.

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This page contains a single entry by Second Season published on October 15, 2009 4:15 PM.

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