Jeff Zgonina (David J Phillips/AP)
Texans defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina is somewhat of a forgotten man among the Texans young, powerful defensive line. Reason being, Zgonina is far from a young man. The former Steeler, Panther, Falcon, Ram, and Dolphin is working on making an NFL roster for the 16th year.
Zgonina was asked if someone told him 16 years ago he would still be in the league today, what he would say, and the veteran responded—
“I hope so, you know? That’s great. Like I said, my goal was 10. I was way out there. I thought I could do it and I’ve had a little rough patch. I could almost get cut every year. I just got lucky enough and stuck and now I’m playing with the Texans.”
In a league in which the average career is just under four years, Zgonina has already defeated the odds, especially considering that he was a seventh-round draft pick by Pittsburgh back in 1993. Zgonina was asked how he has survived in the most competitive of leagues for this long.
“Luck. I mean, timing. Being in the right place at the right time. That’s all, no matter where you’re drafted. First, free agent, seventh like myself, you know. You get in the right situation and unfortunate circumstances happen, guys get hurt or whatever and you finally get thrown in there you finally get to stick, you got a chance. That’s how I got in. A couple guys got hurt and I finally got to play more and show what I could do.”
Zgonina has never been a star, but he has certainly been a solid contributor over the course of his career. Armed with a powerful 6’2”, 290 lb. frame, the Texans veteran has been able to stop the run and put pressure on the passer from his defensive tackle position as he has more than 500 tackles, and 23.5 sacks. Perhaps the highlight of his impressive career has been the Super Bowl Championship he earned as a member of the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
Zgonina is trying to earn a roster spot behind Amobi Okoye, the Texans first-round pick from a year ago. If Zgonina didn’t feel old enough, Okoye wasn’t even born when the Texans veteran was in his senior year in high school in Chicago.
“Yeah, you’re the old jokes, the old guys,” said Zgonina. “You got guys with their cell phones, their Sidekicks, YouTube, whatever the heck that stuff is. Shoot, when I got in the league we used to have calling cards. We didn’t have cell phones. You met somebody out for dinner you hope they were there you better go find a payphone. Now you can just flip a phone out. You get it both ways. They bring the new stuff in and I got to bring the old stuff out. It’s all in fun.”
If Zgonina is going to collect an NFL paycheck for another season, he’s going to have to beat out some stiff competition as the Texans have projected starters Amobi Okoye and Travis Johnson, as well as rookie Frank Okam, and Anthony Maddox. It is likely that Houston will only keep a max of four tackles, so Zgonina is going to have to beat out at least one of those players. Jeff was asked if he was nervous about making the roster this far into his career—
“Every day. You have to. You just never know. It’s a lot of luck. I’m nervous, it’s my livelihood. I don’t want to give it up yet so you got to worry about it, it’s got to be in the back of your head. Also, I can’t worry about it because it will affect my play. Early on, I worried way too much over it, stressed about it. It is what it is, that’s all I got to say. I’m going to give you my best every day in practice and preseason games and hopefully it’s good enough to help this team.”
Jeff Zgonina may no longer have the upside of some of his competitors at his position, but he does offer a veteran presence that includes nine playoff appearances and a Super Bowl ring. With an already young nucleus, Zgonina can offer some leadership that can put Houston over the top and secure their first playoff appearance.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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