Nolan Ziegler grows into burgeoning prospect, commits to Notre Dame

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

Nolan Ziegler was listed as a 6-foot-1, 174-pound safety last fall when he helped Grand Rapids Catholic Central to a Michigan Division 4 state title as a high school sophomore.

And his impressive game film touched off a smattering of scholarship offers.

Who Ziegler has become in the offseason accelerated the quantity and the quality of programs pursuing him. Who the now-6-4, 205-pounder can become coaxed Notre Dame to extend an offer earlier this month.

On Saturday, he announced that they’ll find out together as he verbally committed to the Irish.

"I wanted to go on the visits and make sure to check out all the schools," Ziegler said, "but my mom (Darcy) asked me if I saw myself playing against Notre Dame, and I said ‘no.’

"So I just came to grips with that the last couple of weeks. There’s just so many connections there, it would be crazy not to go there."

Connections and coincidences. Ziegler was born on St. Patrick's Day. He has a 7-year-old sister whose name sounds like Ireland (Iralynn). His grandma, Beth Sullivan, tutored Irish QB great Joe Montana back in the 1970s. 

Ziegler becomes commit No. 3 in the 2022 class, following Zionsville, Ind., offensive tackle Joey Tanona and Alpharetta, Ga., tight end Jack Nickel.

“Physically he plays with a lot of energy and juice to him,” 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong assessed of Ziegler. “He makes a lot of hustle plays but also is a tone setter as a tackler.

“He’s a fluid athlete who changes direction and makes things happen there. He’s a playmaker in the secondary, picking off passes. He makes plays against the run. He’s forcing fumbles. His film has the whole package on there.

“This is a good take for Notre Dame. This is a big kid with a ton of potential.”

And a player whose rating figures to soar, per Wiltfong, and who was recruited as a rover/linebacker for the Irish.

Both 247Sports and Rivals list Ziegler as a three-star prospect. He’s the No. 21 safety and the No. 365 overall prospect nationally in the 2022 class, according to 247Sports. Rivals lists him as the No. 28 multi-position athlete in his class.

"He’s got great speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash), range, hitting ability," said CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who met with Ziegler in person Saturday. "He seems to be a kid that was made to play football. He’s going to be a star. When you have that kind of size and speed, you’re in business. I gave him four stars-plus."

Ziegler's opportunities to be re-evaluated by the recruiting analyst industry will be limited this fall, as Michigan is one of 17 states that have committed to playing its 2020 high school football season after Jan. 1, 2021.

In the meantime, he said his high school team continues to lift outside in tents for now. He's also contemplating joining a 7-on-7 league.

"I was dying to show off my new size this fall," he said. "It’s all good. I just have more time to grind now, just keep adding onto it."

Last season, Ziegler recorded 80 tackles, tied for the team high, and two interceptions. He is expected to double as a wide receiver if/when Michigan high schools play in the spring.

“Whenever he plays, this is a kid who has a great chance to play himself into a fourth star,” Wiltfong said. “This is a kid with a 3.9 GPA from a Catholic school. These are the kind of kids that Notre Dame should be identifying early.

“There’s just so much upside here.”

And good bloodlines, too.

Ziegler said he has relatives who played football at Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan and Notre Dame. His grandfather, Tim Sullivan, played linebacker for the Irish and was a member of the 1973 ND national championship team. Grandma Beth was in the first class of women admitted to the school and was a cheerleader.

Michigan, Iowa, Nebraska, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati were among the other schools that offered. Irish offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, with ties to the area and Catholic Central coach Todd Kolster, did much of the legwork in Ziegler's recruitment.

“I think the Notre Dame offer was the one he was looking for,” Wiltfong said. “It was kind of a slam dunk from there.”

Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic safety Nolan Ziegler, picture here in August of 2019 before a massive growth spurt, verbally committed to Notre Dame on Saturday.