PINEDALE – Freezing rain fell as the Wranglers hit the gridiron to receive the Lovell Bulldogs’ kickoff in the second quarter during the Oct. 8 matchup.
The Pinedale Wranglers returned the ball to their own 30-yard line. Senior quarterback Konner Ziegler led the Wrangler offense across the 50-yard line and into Bulldog territory.
Ziegler jogged to the sidelines to confer with head coach Clay Cundall on the next play before returning to his teammates huddled on the sleet-soaked gridiron.
The Wrangler offense lined up. Ziegler caught the snap, faked a handoff, tucked the ball, raced through an opening in the Lovell defense and rushed 38 yards into the end zone.
Wrangler fans rose to their feet, shaking off the cold. Cheers echoed across the soggy field.
Lovell won the game, yet the Wranglers triumphed in their own right by ending a scoring drought.
“With it being our last home game, I think that gave us the extra juice to get those points on the board, whether or not we lost,” said Ziegler. “Putting those points up was a huge step in the right direction, especially after the previous games.”
Motivated by the touchdowns against Lovell, the Wranglers continued the fight through to the bitter end of a difficult season.
Ziegler, thrown into the varsity quarterback position as a sophomore, understood how to embrace the underdog mentality. He guided a young, relatively inexperienced team plagued by injuries with patience, grit and class.
Taking one hit after another throughout his final season, Ziegler returned to the field to play every game at the helm of the Wrangler offense regardless of the opponent.
“No matter what, you always have to find positive things – something to keep the team going,” he said. “Sometimes you have to be the person to create that. Maybe you have to go make the big hit, or you have to get the 15 yards or the 10 yards for a first down. We celebrate everything good that happens, whether it’s a tackle, touchdown or a good block. Little things like that can boost the guys’ confidence and help get them back in the game.”
The Wyoming Coaches Association recognized Ziegler’s solid, steady leadership and athletic ability by awarding the senior 2021 2A All-State and All-Conference honors.
“It’s a good feeling to get All-State after putting in all the work,” Ziegler said. “With the rough season, it’s the light at the end of the tunnel for me. It was a tough year, but building the brotherhood that I did with all the players was definitely worth all the struggles.”
A strong foundation
Ziegler first hit the gridiron as a kindergartener playing flag football. He progressed through the Pinedale Aquatic Center’s Junior Wrangler football program and went out for the Pinedale Middle School team before joining the Wranglers.
“Football is a lifestyle, most definitely,” he said.
Ziegler’s father played football, a motivating force behind his decision to stick with the sport.
“We’d go through family photos and see my dad in his football pads,” said Ziegler. “That was always a dream of mine, to have my kids look back at my football stuff and say, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ My dad made All-State his senior year, and I thought it would be cool having my name up on the board in the Wrangler Gym along with my dad’s.”
Ziegler found himself starting for the Wranglers as quarterback and defensive corner-back his sophomore year.
“Stepping into a varsity quarterback spot as a sophomore was really hard – you’ve got to be mentally and physically tough,” Ziegler said. “Not only that, but you have seniors counting on you to make the right plays and the right decisions. I really had to work on perfecting my game and how I played.”
Ziegler’s education involved mental preparation – learning plays, keeping track of his team and watching the opponents’ every move.
“I learned that not every play is going to go my way,” he said. “My dad always told me if a play goes wrong, make something out of it.”
Ziegler learned to roll with the flow, make in-the-moment snap decisions and focus on one game at a time.
“I played every game like it was my last game and gave it everything I had, no matter what the score was,” he said.
Part of Ziegler’s role involved preventing “shooting ourselves in the foot” – not allowing small mistakes to snowball into bigger errors.
“We saw that with Kemmerer (this season) when Kemmerer made the first two scores within the first couple minutes of the game,” Ziegler said. “Some of the younger guys took a step back and I think it scared them a little bit. It was hard to get them back in the game.”
Ziegler learned to keep his emotions in check and maintain a positive example for the more inexperienced players on the team.
“I’d always keep my head up as a leader, push forward and support the guys,” he said. “If one person is down, everyone is down. I had to keep them up and ready to play.”
Brotherhood and love for the game
The key to success in football is putting the team above the individual. As quarterback, Ziegler worked to foster bonds between players on the team.
“As a freshman, looking back on the team, there was no brotherhood,” he said. “It was everyone for themselves. As I slowly went through my high school years, the teamwork got a lot better. All the guys on the team are friends and we can all joke around and be buddies. The camaraderie, having each other’s backs and being able to support each other whether a game is going well or not plays a big role in football. It wasn’t always what the scoreboard said, it was about building up the players.”
Ziegler’s passion for the sport returned year after year, despite the ups and downs in each season.
“I always remember why I started playing the game and staying true to the little kid who loved the game of football,” he said.
Looking back over three seasons as quarterback, Ziegler recalled the Wranglers’ homecoming victory against Greybull his sophomore year, when everything came together and Pinedale trounced the Buffalos, 24-13.
“That was a really good game and I think it was a bright light for Pinedale football,” he said. “The crowd stormed the field and I thought, ‘This is what high school football should be like.’”
Ziegler is a multisport athlete. He competed in indoor track since eighth grade and participated in the Wrangler outdoor track program, focusing on sprinting events.
To unwind, Ziegler enjoys fishing and hiking in summer and snowboarding and skiing in winter. He is an alpine ski instructor at White Pine, patiently teaching people “from 3 years old to 40, 50, 60 years old” how to safely make their way from the lift drop-off point to the bottom of the slope.
Following graduation, Ziegler plans to attend Southern Utah University’s aviation school and become a pilot.
Ziegler gave out a thank you to his older brother as an inspiration to stick with the sport.
“He was a senior when I was a freshman and we both got to play football together for one year,” Ziegler said. “Seeing him being the big-dog senior, that made me want to be the guy that all the kids looked up to.”
Ziegler also gave a shoutout to his parents, grandparents, “really my entire family, for their continual support.”
Ziegler acknowledged his coaches “for always sticking with us even when it was hard.”