Looking back: No QB uncertainty when Zeier was a Bulldog

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

Credit: Joey Ivansco / AJC

What he did: Unlike the quarterback conundrum today in Athens, when Eric Zeier arrived at the University of Georgia in 1991, it took only a few games before he was the fulltime starter. The star from Marietta High School, who is currently the analyst on Georgia radio broadcast, was perhaps the best quarterback ever to attend the school when it came to on-field performance. When he walked away from the hedges for the final time, he owned a mind-boggling 67 school records and 18 Southeastern Conference records.

He may never had made it to UGA had the U.S. Army not transferred his father from Germany to Fort McPherson in East Point before his junior high school season. The year before in Heidelberg, Zeier had led the American High School to a championship and he quickly made at impact at Marietta High, also playing basketball and baseball.

Under head coach Dexter Wood, who would go on to build Buford High into a power, Marietta would go 10-1 in 1989 and come back to go 12-1 his senior season when Zeier was named The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Player of the Year. Zeier never lost a regular season game for the Blue Devils and beat hated rival Wheeler in both appearances. As a junior, he completed 138-of-227 passes for 2,018 yards and 22 touchdowns and then surpassed those number his senior year, completing 136-of-231 passes for 2,484 yards and 28 touchdowns, throwing just four interceptions.

Many colleges came calling and Zeier considered Florida State, Miami and Alabama but liked what Ray Goff was doing with his staff at Georgia and chose the Bulldogs. He graduated from Marietta early and enrolled at UGA in the spring of 1991. By opening day, he found himself platooning with junior Greg Talley.

Then on Oct. 5, 1991, Zeier made his first start: a 27-12 win over Clemson in Athens.

He went on to start 40 more games and never lost to Georgia Tech in four years. He also won two bowl games: the 1991 Independence Bowl over Arkansas and the 1993 Citrus Bowl over Ohio State.

He became the conference’s all-time passing leader (11,153 yards), since surpassed by Tennessee’s Peyton Manning and Georgia’s David Greene. He threw a for a school record 544 yards in a game his junior season against Southern Miss and was named first-team All-American his senior season.

In his four years, he completed 877-of-1,461 passes (.600) and was 26-14-1 as a starter during a tenuous time in the school’s football history.

Going into the 1995 NFL draft, teams were not sure how to rate the hard-throwing but undersized (6-foot-1) quarterback. Only two quarterbacks — Steve McNair and Kerry Collins — were taken in the first round. Two more went in the second round — Todd Collins and Kordell Stewart. In the third round, New Mexico’s Stoney Case went No. 80 overall to Arizona before Zeier was finally selected four picks later by Cleveland.

Zeier lasted only one season there in what would be the Browns last year in Cleveland, owner Art Model moving the club to Baltimore during the offseason. In Cleveland, Zeier competed against Vinny Testaverde his rookie season and started four games, completing 82-of-161 passes for 864 yards with four touchdowns and nine interceptions. He moved with the team to Baltimore where, over a three-year period, he would start just seven games before being traded in 1991 to Tampa Bay for a sixth-round pick. He made just one start in two seasons with the Bucs.

He got one last chance with the Falcons but it was the year they drafted Michael Vick and Zeier was one of the last cuts that summer in 2001. He then played in two exhibition games for the Georgia Force of the Arena Football League but decided to retire and went into the mortgage industry.

Where he lives: Zeier, 42, lives in Marietta and has been married to Julie for three years. They have one child (Knox) and are expecting another at the end of the month. He has two children from a previous marriage (Zeke and Ike), who live with their mother in Nashville and are very good hockey players. Said Zeier, "We were up in Nashville at a birthday party and Zeke went out on the ice and skated and came off of it saying he loved it. So they have been very involved in it ever since.''

What he does now: He works for Bank of America as a regional sales executive in home mortgages and is the game-day analyst on the Georgia radio football broadcast.

On playing high school football in Germany: "We had some kind of team. I think 11 guys off my sophomore team went on and played college football.''

On his fondest memory from playing at Marietta High: "It had to be beating our big rival Wheeler. They came into our game undefeated both times and we beat both times (47-7 in 1989 and 55-21 in '90).''

On why he went to Georgia: "Well, if I wasn't playing football, that was definitely the school I was going to. I looked hard at Florida State, Miami and Alabama but when (offensive coordinator) Wayne McDuffie came in (to UGA), I think I committed the following week.''

On the benefit of enrolling at UGA early: "It was tremendous. I would not have played my freshman year if I wouldn't have done that. It was huge getting acclimated to the new offense. But the biggest thing is having the chance to acclimate yourself to college without the pressure of doing that during the middle of the season.''

On his first start vs. Clemson: "Greg (Talley) and I were named co-starters at the beginning of the season and we were rotating. Clemson was a night game and it was the night the Braves clinched (1991) so there was tremendous excitement at (Sanford) stadium. It was the loudest I ever heard the stadium. I hit a couple of long passes that I probably should have never thrown. And we won the game.''

On what he remembers most from Georgia: "Well, that Clemson game was tops but the game at Florida (1993) was big. We played in the rain and when I stepped on the field, I never thought we would play. We lost that game (33-26) when we had a touchdown called back (on a late Florida timeout). I think the game we played against Alabama my senior year (29-28 loss in Tuscaloosa) was probably the best I have ever played (four TD passes) in a college game.''

On his NFL career: "The speed aspect at that level is so good and you had to be prepared. All the players could run and I had a number of chances, starting some games. But if you are not a first- or second-round pick as a quarterback, it is really tough. It's tough to make your mark. At the end, I had lost all the cartilage in one of my knees and even on my best days, I was just good. Then when I came to Atlanta, they got Michael Vick. I was proud of my six years in the league but it was time to move on.''

On the 2015 Bulldogs: "I am excited about what the Dogs can do. Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt had done a good job on the defensive side of the football. It starts with the defense and the ability to run the football and we have that in Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. The big question marks are quarterback and center.''

On the QB's: "I think the guys that are there are tremendously talented. They can all throw the football well. Losing (offensive coordinator) Mike Bobo is a big deal because he did a great job with developing the quarterbacks. The big question is which guy is going to step forward and we haven't seen that yet.''

On the oft-criticisms of head coach Mark Richt: "He is one of the finest coaches in the country and he raised expectations to a very high level early in his career for Georgia fans and they want to win it all and they should want to win it all. Coach Richt has to deal with a lot of pressure but if my kids were playing football, there is not another coach in America I would want them to play for.''