Football Preview 2016: Ziemba excited for senior season with Rams

Shepherd quarterback  Jeff Ziemba (11) scrambles for yardage against Slippery Rock during third-quarter action last season in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Journal photo by Ron Agnir

Shepherd quarterback Jeff Ziemba (11) scrambles for yardage against Slippery Rock during third-quarter action last season in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Journal photo by Ron Agnir

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — There’s his football family and his real family for Jeff Ziemba.

The two are intertwined.

He’s been with some Shepherd teammates for five years, counting their redshirt freshmen seasons, and they’ve become as close as brothers. Then there’s Ziemba’s real brother, Dalton, who sat out last season as a redshirt.

To the Shepherd senior quarterback, if there’s one thing he wants to do this season, it’s hook up with Dalton for a touchdown catch.

Jeff Ziemba has a series of other goals, too, like helping to lead the Rams to another national championship game, for one. There are others, too.

However, the opportunity to throw a touchdown pass to his younger brother, who will enjoy his first season of eligibility, can’t be topped for the senior.

“One of my goals is to hear over the loudspeaker, ‘Ziemba to Ziemba, touchdown,'” Jeff Ziemba said. “My parents have never heard that.”

Never.

With his pinpoint passing ability, the quarterback is more than capable of tossing a touchdown pass to Dalton, who moved from wide receiver to tight end for his first season of eligibility.

Jeff Ziemba has a knack for hooking up with his receivers, his tight ends and his running backs running passing routes. His career completion percentage is .637.

Some of those incompletions shouldn’t even count against Ziemba’s statistics.

They have been more positive than negative.

Rather than take a yardage-losing sack or throwing an interception by trying to force the ball into coverage, Ziemba simply throws the ball out of harm’s way. He’ll toss the football high over the head in the direction of a receiver so it lands out of bounds.

A couple of the interceptions thrown by Ziemba probably shouldn’t count either. They were fluky deflections.

He has thrown just 13 interceptions over his career.

Another of Jeff Ziemba’s goals is to throw no interceptions. Plus, to suffer no turnovers at all.

“My first goal is to be better than I was last year, being more effective with the ball and get it to the right receiver,” he said.

And keeping the football out of the hands of the opponent.

“I don’t like interceptions,” he said.

Yet, it’s a series of interceptions — devastating ones — that motivates Jeff Ziemba.

He threw three, two of them returned for touchdowns, in a 28-7 regional final loss to West Chester in 2013.

“When I was a redshirt freshman, the West Chester game, I said I’d never do that again,” he said. “The feeling I had after that game was something I’ve never had before. Yeah, that definitely drives me.”

He has never had that feeling again.

He’s never thrown three interceptions in a game since.

Jeff Ziemba said his sharpness comes from going up against Shepherd’s defense daily.

“Throw an interception against those guys, and you never hear the end of it,” he said.

The feeling in the national championship game, though, might’ve been worse in many ways compared with the West Chester game.

Shepherd could’ve made once-in-a-program-history national championship last year when Ziemba threw for 3,414 yards and 30 touchdowns as the Rams went 13-1, losing only in the program’s first national championship game.

Coming back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him on the first series of the semifinal against Grand Valley State, Ziemba threw one interception against Northwest Missouri State and was sacked 10 times.

He’d like one more chance at the Bearcats. Another of his goals for 2015 is to guide Shepherd to another national championship game.

“Everybody that was here last year knows that loss on that field was horrible feeling and a very bad thing,” he said. “We’re hungry to get back and restart what we started.”

The quarterback finished seventh in the Harlon Hill balloting last season and has collected some preseason All-America honors going into 2016.

“First, seeing it obviously makes me happy, that there are people who think of me as good or great in that way,” Ziemba said. “Second, I want that to be motivation. That people say I can be an All-American, I just want to prove that I can do it.”

He said he hopes that a professional scout thinks the same thing about him.

“I would like to say, ‘Yeah,'” Jeff Ziemba said when asked if he hopes to play pro football. “It’s been my dream since I’ve been a kid. If it happens, it happens. It’s been my goal to play at the next level.”

He worked with a new personal trainer over the summer “to get stronger and faster.”

First, though, for the player who came to Shepherd from Newark, Delaware, there’s his senior season.

There’s leading the Rams again after coming off Shepherd’s greatest season in school history.

There’s trying to not throw any interceptions.

In other words, there’s Jeff Ziemba being Jeff Ziemba.

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