Big Rapids, Mich. - The Ferris State University football program, which reached the NCAA Division II National Quarterfinals for the second-straight year this past fall, has announced standout defensive end and two-time All-American Zach Sieler (Pinckney) will forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the 2018 National Football League Draft.
Sieler, who graduated from FSU in December with a degree in mechanical engineering technology, has been projected as a strong potential draft choice and could become the school's first-ever NFL Draft selection when the event takes place for the 83rd time this April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The 6-6, 290-pound Sieler is presently training for this year's draft and recently signed with US Sports Management, which also represents former two-time Harlon Hill Trophy recipient and fellow Bulldog alum Jason Vander Laan, who garnered NFL regular-season action this past fall for the Indianapolis Colts.
Sieler was a consensus All-America choice each of the past two seasons and twice received the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Defensive Lineman of the Year honor along with being chosen in both 2016 and 2017 as the Division II Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA) Super Region Defensive Player of the Year. He began his FSU career as a walk-on before becoming one of the nation's top defensive linemen over the last two seasons.
"This is a great opportunity for Zach to realize a dream of playing professional football," said FSU head coach Tony Annese. "While we will certainly miss his play as one of the country's top players on the field, we're also losing a tremendous young man and leader who put forth a large amount of time and energy in helping our program grow. Most importantly, Zach is also leaving FSU with his degree in hand.
"We're appreciative of all his efforts over the past four and a half years and believe he has a bright future ahead of him," he said. "We look forward to watching another Bulldog on Sunday's at the highest level in the coming years."
This past fall, Sieler led the Bulldogs with 21 tackles for loss (-74 yards) and seven quarterback sacks (-46 yards) despite consistently drawing multiple blockers while ranking third in total tackles (79) in addition to forcing two fumbles, recovering two fumbles, breaking up two passes and blocking a kick. Along with being a consensus first team All-American, he was also chosen as a national finalist for the Cliff Harris National Small College Defensive Player of the Year honor for the second consecutive season. Sieler was also a three-time GLIAC All-Academic Team honoree.
"This was an extremely tough decision for me, but ultimately in the end it was the best choice for my future," Sieler said. "I will deeply miss my teammates and brothers back at Ferris State along with the amazing coaching and support staff that helped me grow imensley in every aspect of life both on and off the field."
As a sophomore in 2016, Sieler set new school records with 29.5 tackles for loss (-164 yards) and 19.5 sacks (-138 yards) while helping FSU to the school's second-ever NCAA Division II National Semifinal appearance. He ranked among the nation's top five players in both categories and led the GLIAC while also ranking as FSU's third-leading tackler with a personal career-high 80 stops, including 37 solo hits. Sieler added a team-high five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a blocked kick and a pass breakup while starting all 15 games in 2016.
In 2016, Sieler was tabbed as the Football Gazette National Defensive Player of the Year in addition to earning his first of two mentions as the region's top defensive player. In each of his final two seasons, he garnered consensus All-America recognition from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), D2Football.com, Football Gazette, Associated Press and the Division II Conference Commissioners Association among other sources.
The three-year letterwinner, who initially redshirted as a freshman in 2013 before sitting out in 2014 and then playing in 11 games as a reserve in 2015, closed his FSU career with 176 total tackles in 39 games with 33 sacks for minus 219 yards along with 58 tackles for loss resulting in 274 lost yards. He matched former Bulldog standout Jim Lenz (1990-93) as the school's all-time sack leader and broke former standout Ed Philion's school career record with his 58 tackles for loss. His younger brother, Adam, is currently an offensive lineman in the Bulldog program and redshirted this past fall.
Sieler will attempt to join three other former FSU teammates at the game's highest level in the NFL this coming year. Vander Laan made his initial NFL regular-season debut with the Colts this year while former linebacker Brady Sheldon saw regular-season action at the end of the 2017 campaign with the Oakland Raiders. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jake Lampman is also presently in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after spending his rookie year with the New Orleans Saints. Another former teammate on the FSU defensive line, tackle Justin Zimmer, spent this fall in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes after competing in training camp this past summer with the Saints.
"It's exciting to see all of these former players have an opportunity to continue their careers in pro football and speaks to the exceptional talent we've been able to attract and develop here at Ferris State," said Annese. "Not only have these guys been great players, but they've also been outstanding ambassadors for our university and have left a lasting mark on Bulldog Football."
Before Vander Laan and Sheldon made their NFL debuts this past fall, Lampman had become the first FSU player in 13 years to play on football's biggest stage in regular-season action with the Saints in 2016. A total of eight players all-time who once competed for the Bulldogs have seen playing time in the NFL regular season including Dave Gagnon (1974), Ricky Patton (1978-82), Monty Brown (1993-96), Ed Philion (1994-95) Clarence Coleman (2003), Lampman (2016), Vander Laan (2017) and Sheldon (2017).
This past year, Sieler's play and leadership helped FSU finish the 2017 season with an 11-2 overall record. FSU's 11 wins marked the fourth consecutive year in which the Bulldogs had achieved the feat, which represents the first time in school history in which FSU has done so over four-straight years. Over the last four plus seasons at FSU during Sieler's career, the Bulldogs recorded a 45-7 overall record and also won a pair of conference championships.
In 2017, the Bulldogs also made their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Division II Playoffs and reached the national quarterfinal round for the second-straight year after making a D2 National Semifinal appearance and winning a regional crown in 2016. Ferris State ranks as the winningest team in Michigan and the GLIAC over the past six years under Annese's direction.