BIG RAPIDS — Just three years ago, Greenville High School graduate Justin Zimmer was excelling on the sidelines in a Yellow Jackets football uniform.
Today, Zimmer is excelling on the sidelines in a Ferris State University football uniform.
The redshirt sophomore, this week, was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Defensive Player of the Week, the Beyond Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week and the Division 2 Defensive Player of the Week for his play in Saturday’s 34-7 victory at Ashland.
Zimmer — a starting defensive end — recorded 10 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown in the win. He also broke up a pass and forced a fumble.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” Zimmer said of hearing the news. “I knew I had a good game, but I didn’t know how well until after the game. Once I found out my stats, I was really excited.”
Zimmer credits the play calling for his success against Ashland, the defending GLIAC champions.
“The call on one of my sacks was perfectly called. There was no way the offense could have stopped what we were running,” Zimmer said. “We executed real well. Our secondary gave the defensive line time to work our pass rush.”
Ferris State is currently 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the GLIAC.
As a freshman, Zimmer did not play after being redshirted. As a sophomore, Zimmer saw limited time and mostly played on special teams.
“I love college football. This is a great experience,” Zimmer said.
As a senior in high school, Zimmer helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 9-2 record. He earned All-State honors and was named The Daily News Defensive Player of the Year for his play at linebacker.
Zimmer noted a couple of major differences in playing college football as opposed to high school.
“The biggest adjustment is how much time we get to spend on football now,” he said. “Then the size of everyone. In high school, I was the biggest kid on the team at 235 pounds. Now, everyone is that big, fast and strong.”
Zimmer is weighing in at 255 now.
A linebacker in high school, Zimmer is still learning his new position, but obviously playing it well enough to deserve the starting nod.
“Last year, was my first full season at defensive end. Just going through that year and gaining experience was key for me,” Zimmer said. “I’m still gaining a lot of experience. Game-by-game, I’m still getting better with the playing experience.”
A solid spring more than likely earned Zimmer the starting spot in the Bulldogs lineup.
“I thought I had a good chance at starting this year,” Zimmer said. “I kind of won over the spot during spring ball. I kept working out in the summer and earned it again early in the fall.”
Zimmer was recruited by longtime FSU head coach Jeff Pierce, but Pierce was let go following his freshman season. In his second year coaching now is former Muskegon High School and Grand Rapids Community College coach Tony Annese.
“He is a great coach, real intense and determined to win,” Zimmer said.
For the season, Zimmer is second on the team in tackles with 26. He leads them with 4.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss.
“Our goal is to win the conference championship this season,” Zimmer said. “If we can make the playoffs, we want to go as far as possible. We have a great team this year, as far as athletes, but we have to focus more on the mental aspect.”
The Bulldogs will travel to Ohio to face Walsh University at 6 p.m. Saturday.