Sometime in August of 2017, Tivy assistant coach Ty Taylor approached Jared Zirkel inside the Antlers’ weight room, needing to share some important news with the rising sophomore.
Before his conversation with Taylor, Zirkel was a typical teenager: He enjoyed playing FIFA on the Xbox and especially loved playing football with his friends, starting at linebacker for Tivy’s freshman team, hoping to someday play the position on Friday nights at Antler Stadium.
“That was my goal freshman year,” Zirkel said. “Then it all kind of changed.”
It all kind of changed when Taylor informed him of the coaching staff’s decision to move him to varsity for his sophomore season. He was going to take over kick-off duties and become the Antlers’ starting punter.
The bad news? Zirkel’s kicking responsibilities meant he never played one snap at linebacker during his varsity career. To this day, none of his coaches dispute his ability to play the position; they just don’t want him to suffer any type of injury. He’s simply too valuable of a kicker.
It turned out to be the right decision, as Zirkel’s leg has helped Tivy win 21 games during the past two seasons. Soon enough, Georgia’s coaching staff started to notice Zirkel’s gift, too. Georgia special teams coach Scott Fountain inspected around 10 kickers across the nation. Head coach Kirby Smart decided that Zirkel was the guy they wanted
During a phone conversation Wednesday night, Fountain asked Zirkel if his family was around. When Zirkel confirmed that they were all present, Fountain offered him a full scholarship to kick at Georgia.
It was an easy decision for Zirkel. His mother, Marie Zirkel, was a Georgia alumna, dressing her son in Georgia gear when he was an infant. Now, Marie will have the chance to watch her son wear a Georgia uniform on Saturdays in the fall.
“I really wanted to jump on the opportunity since they have been my No. 1 team for awhile now,” Jared said.
He committed Wednesday night and shared his decision with everyone else on Twitter Thursday morning. His commitment tweet had received over 1,500 likes by Thursday evening, with countless Bulldog fans welcoming him to the Georgia family.
“It’s super cool,” Zirkel said of the support. “I hope I can make Georgia fans proud in the future. It’s really exciting, but there is going to be some big shoes to fill with Rodrigo (Blakenship) leaving, their current kicker who is just amazing. So, hopefully I kick with him a few times before he’s gone. He’s someone I look up to and hopefully I replicate the job that he’s done.”
He’s certainly done a good job at Tivy. He kicked the now-famous 59-yard field goal against Fredericksburg, delivered a 49-yard, game-winning field goal to help the Antlers defeat arch-rival Boerne Champion and posted a 90-percent touchback rate on his kickoffs during the 2018 season.
“I am really excited and happy for Jared,” Tivy coach David Jones said. “He’s one of the top students in his class; he will be in the top 10 probably. He makes all A’s and has over a 100 grade-point average. He’s just a great kid — works hard, does everything we ask him to do. He’s gone through all of our off-seasons. He shows up every day in the summer, just a real asset to our program.
“We are excited that he gets an opportunity to pursue a dream. We will see where it leads.”
But he has over a year until he attends Georgia. At the moment, Zirkel plans on savoring his senior year at Tivy. After all, he’s still a teenager who loves spending time with his friends. On Tuesday morning, he was powering through a workout with his teammates during SAC camp, laughing and cracking jokes along the way.
He’s even hoping that his coaches give him a couple of reps at linebacker during blowout games this fall.
“Yeah ... I’m still not going to risk that,” Jones confessed.
Nevertheless, he believes next fall is going to be special.
“I honestly think we are going to go pretty far,” Zirkel said. “I think we have a lot of talent. With a whole bunch of the guys getting playing time on varsity last year, I think we are a pretty experienced team.
“It should be a really good year and not having to worry about where I am going to play in college will be really nice.”