Lutcher’s Zeller continuing winning ways at Nicholls State

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 12, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / August 12, 1998

NEW ORLEANS – The best thing that can be said about any quarterback is that he is a winner.

Pro quarterbacks like Bart Starr, Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman and Joe Montana did not put up the gaudiest of numbers but all have won multiple Super Bowl titles. Herb Tyler may not be the flashiest of quarterbacks buthe has led LSU to three straight winning seasons.

The term “winner” has also been used to describe Brad Zeller, by both his high school coach at Lutcher High School, Tim Detillier, and his current coach at Nicholls State University, Darren Barbier.

“Brad Zeller is a winner,” Barbier said. “He wants to win all the time. Heis one of those players who finds a way to win.”In 1995, Barbier’s first year with Nicholls State after coming over from Hahnville High School, the Colonels went 0-11. Zeller started the finalfour games that season as a true freshman. The following year with Zellerentrenched as the starter, the Colonels went 8-3 and advanced to the Division I-AA playoffs, becoming the first team in Division I-AA history to go from a winless record one season to an eight-win season the next.

Detiller said he wasn’t surprised by the turnaround.

“Brad Zeller is a winner,” Detillier said. “He will find a way to win thegame. He will do something before the game is over to win it.”Zeller started playing football at the age of five and played Little League ball for Paulina, Gramercy and Longview before attending Lutcher High School. A highlight of his prep career came during his junior year againstE.D. White. Late in the game, Zeller tossed to his slot receiver, got the ballback and threw to the fullback for the winning touchdown to upset the Cardinals.

The Bulldogs advanced to the state quarterfinals his senior year. Despite abroken wrist and a broken collarbone that sidelined him for the season in the eighth game, Zeller was named to the Class 3A all-state football team.

When it came time to choose a college, Zeller, who also had offers from the Air Force Academy and Southwest Missouri State, chose Nicholls State because it was close to home and because the Colonels were willing to let him play quarterback in their triple option offense.

“I liked what they were doing and I still like what they are doing,” Zeller said.

After having an appendectomy during preseason drills that caused him to miss most of the preseason, Zeller ran the Colonels’ scout team and got an opportunity late in the season to travel with the team. Zeller came off thebench in Nicholls State’s seventh game against nationally-ranked Stephen F. Austin, rushing for 60 yards, including a 47-yard run, and passing for 91yards. The following week, Barbier gave Zeller his first start againstSouthwest Texas State.

Zeller would start the final four games, throwing for a team-high 372 yards, including 126 yards against Southern. Zeller also ran for 174 yardsthat season, scoring on a 44-yard run against No. 1-ranked McNeese State.Then came the turnaround season of 1996. The Colonels dropped their firstgame of the season to Northeast Louisiana before ending its 14-game losing streak against Jacksonville State. After a loss to Troy State, theColonels defeated Samford with Zeller connecting with Kajuan Billings on a school-record 87-yard pass for the game’s only touchdown. A winagainst Northwestern State and a loss to Stephen F. Austin evened theColonels’ record at 3-3.

Nicholls State would not lose again during the regular season. TheColonels started the streak by outlasting Southwest Texas State in five overtimes, 49-36. A 14-0 upset of 25th-ranked Southern followed beforethe Colonels defeated Sam Houston State. A victory over Harding gave theColonels a shot at the playoffs.

The Colonels learned just before their final game against McNeese State that Northwestern Louisiana had defeated Stephen F. Austin and that theyjust needed a victory to advance to the playoffs. Trailing 16-10 late in thecontest, Zeller led the Colonels on an 83-yard, 12 play drive, capping it off with a 4-yard touchdown run with 11 seconds to play.

Playing on a frozen field and in front of a hostile crowd in Missoula, Montana for the first round of the playoffs, the Colonels were no-match for defending national champion Montana, falling 48-3. Montana wouldadvance to the championship game, losing to Marshall.

Zeller finished the season with 1,340 yards and six touchdowns passing and 237 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. He also set a schoolrecord by completing 59 percent of his passes. Zeller said a catalyst forthe turnaround was actually the 1995 season.

“Part of it was going 0-11,” Zeller said. “It created a family type deal. Wealso had a real good offseason. We had good strength and conditioning andreally came together as a team. Once we got rolling, it was a snowballeffect.”The Colonels suffered somewhat of a disappointing season in 1997, losing their final three games to drop to 5-6. Losing two offensive lineman hurtthe offense. Zeller finished the season with a career-best 1,537 yardspassing, including a personal best 234 yards against Stephen F. Austin. Zeller is looking forward to his senior season. Barbier said he will open upthe offense and that Zeller’s play will be important to the success of the team.

“As a team, I feel we are going to be pretty tough,” Zeller said.

This past May, Zeller attended the second annual NCAA Foundation Leadership Conference held at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Theconference allowed student-athletes an opportunity to discus issues facing their peers as well as improving their leadership skills.

“It will help me better communicate with the players and coaches,” Zeller said of the conference. “The main thing I got out of it was communicationskills.”Zeller said he sees himself more of a leader by example than a vocal leader, something that both his college and high school coaches agree with.

“He is not a rah-rah type,” Detillier said. “He leads by example. He is aquiet leader.”As successful as he has been on the field, there is also no questioning how successful Zeller has been in the classroom. At Lutcher, he was named tothe academic all-state team. And at Nicholls, Zeller is a two-timeselection to the Southland Football Conference Commissioner’s List which honors academic success and has also been named to the Co-SIDA Academic All-American District VI team each of the last two seasons.

“I know academics means my future,” Zeller said. “Football won’t lastforever. The better grades I have, the easier it will be to get a job.”Zeller said he is planning to get his Bachelors in Math Education next spring. After that, he said he either wants to get his Masters in Math orget an engineering degree. Zeller, who was an all-state baseball player atLutcher, batting .465 as a senior, said he also wants to try out forbaseball this spring.

Until then, Zeller is concentrating on the 1998 football season, one in which he thinks the team can go back to where it was two years ago.

“Discipline and execution, especially on offense,” Zeller said of the keys for the season. “We need to execute from week to week.”And with Zeller behind center, the Colonels cannot be counted out for another trip to the playoffs.

“He is the kind that you wish your daughter would bring home,” Detillier said. “He is an excellent student and a tremendous athlete. It was likehaving another coach on the field. People ask if he is an impact player or afranchise player. Yes, he is an impact player. He is one you like to buildyour team around.”

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