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Derrick Ziglar was ready to leave his hometown when VMI football gave him the opportunity.
CHUCK STEENBURGH | VMI
Former Martinsville High School standout Derrick Ziglar is now leading the VMI rushing attack.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
LEXINGTON — How revered has VMI running back Derrick Ziglar become back in his hometown of Martinsville these days?
Check out the scene last Friday before the Martinsville Bulldogs’ homecoming game against Halifax County.
“I had met Orion Martin [first-year Bulldogs coach] this summer and he let me speak to the team,” said Ziglar, who helped resurrect the proud program from its worst season in 2009 to a playoff berth in 2010.
The former star quarterback-safety of the hometown team talked nothing about football during his impromptu spiel to a circle of excited players.
“I just talked about seizing the moment and making sure they’re executing in the classroom and staying out of trouble and looking ahead,” Ziglar recalled Wednesday.
“A lot of those guys have told me that they look up to me and I just wanted to give them my experience when I was in high school. We have a lot of great athletes in Martinsville who don’t get an opportunity to go anywhere afterwards.”
No shocker the speech resonated. The jacked-up ’Dogs beat Halifax County, 27-20, for their second win of the season.
“Derrick Ziglar is a special kind of guy,” VMI coach Sparky Woods said. “He’s been playing for his life, trying to make a better life for himself. He does well on the field and does well in school. He’s a great team guy. He’s a smart kid and he’s tough, and he listens and wants to do well, wants to improve himself.”
Little wonder Martin’s troops were all ears in pregame. Face it, Derrick Ziglar is a winner.
Not to mention a survivor. Determined to escape the crime and drugs and depression of his hometown and ensure a better future for himself, Ziglar didn’t have to think twice when VMI offered him a scholarship in 2011.
Two years later, the rock-hard 5-foot-9, 230-pound back has found the tough daily rigors of military-school life to be nothing short of a true life blessing.
“At first, you don’t really know what to expect,” he said. “The first time I visited here the place looked old. And you don’t know what to expect behind those walls. It’s like unusual and it’s not like anywhere else, that is true. But we all take pride in that. And I take pride in being here.”
Ziglar’s fortunes have risen on the field this season. He worked hard to earn the Keydets’ lead back spot in preseason and ranks fifth in the Big South in rushing (53.5 ypg), eighth in receptions (3.25) and fifth in all-purpose yards (94.5) despite missing the pass-happy offense’s last game against Robert Morris with a sprained right MCL.
“Oh, man the ‘Z-train’ has been rolling,” VMI senior linebacker Chris Harper said . “He’s a load to bring down with that low center of gravity and those thick legs and all that power.”
Woods, who has coached all over the college football map, said Ziglar is “probably our best all-around guy right now. He’s an example of what kind of guy we’ve got to find here to win.”
Credit Ziglar’s longtime drill sergeant — his mother, Fredericka Tinsley — for developing her kids’ mold of steel as they grew up in the family’s house located smack dab in the middle of downtown Martinsville.
“They were afraid of the wrath of Mama,” said Tinsley, whose youngest son, Taj Taylor, is Martin’s No. 1 running back this season.
“You don’t want to mess with Mama. It was just plain back in the day good old-fashioned whoopins keeping them in line. I meant what I said; I stayed on top of them when it came to that and I didn’t play with them.
“I played when it was time to play, but when it comes to school I made it clear that you go to school to learn, you don’t go to school to play, you don’t go to school to get in trouble, I’m not having that.”
Neither was her oldest boy, who learned long ago to take care of business at school, stay out of trouble and respect all human beings, not to mention keeping his room straight and clean.
“I lived in a rough spot to be at,” Ziglar said. “You see it all. It’s good not to have to deal with all that. That just comes from me working on keeping my head on right. I always had a mindset that I wanted to go play college football. When I was in school, it was stay away from the drugs, the people who wanted to shoot guns and do stuff like that because I knew if I got caught up in that this opportunity wouldn’t be here today.”
“I’ve seen a lot of stuff happen to my friends. We all had to fight to get to where we are today and now there are some that are not blessed with the opportunity that I was.”
Tinsley said an established plan is key for her boys. She said VMI was the perfect fit for her oldest son.
“I never saw Derrick as a military-type guy but he’s always been the type of person who likes structure,” she said. “It’s good when you’ve got something that has a strong foundation where there are requirements and there are things that you’ve got to do in order to get here or get there.”
In his third year on post, Ziglar hasn’t forgotten what his mother preached. He said VMI’s tight-knit, restriction-filled modus operandi has become a security blanket in his second home.
“Coming here was an opportunity I was blessed to have and I worked hard for it,” he said. “You know when you get an opportunity that you really work hard for you make the most out of it.
“That’s the kind of mindset that I have really every day I wake up. We all wake up sometimes when you wish you were somewhere else.
“But I read in the paper recently that Martinsville is like the No. 7 poorest city in the nation. My Mama loves me being here and so do I.”
Once he marches out of VMI with a biology degree, Ziglar said he wants to stay in sports, either via coaching or training athletes.
Could he possibly return home to coach for Martin, the former Virginia Tech star defensive end who also was raised in a strong family enviroment?
“I could see myself doing that,” said Ziglar, flashing a big grin. “I wish I could, but I don’t know if want to make that trip back to Martinsville to do it. Just because of the area, where I want to raise my family at. I worked hard to set myself up to do this and I’m going to get it done.”
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