Col. John Ziegler III has traveled all over the world. He's helped lead the fight against terrorism from the Pentagon, run counterintelligence operations in Baghdad and is now Inspector General at the Air Force Office of Special Investigations in Virginia. But before all that, he survived some grueling practices with the Minnetonka High School football team. And that's the strength he'd draw on as he was making his way through the Air Force Academy.
"Your first year at the Academy, it's so taxing physically and mentally, I looked at it as two-a-days," he says. "I thought, if I can get through football two-a-days, I can get through this. It's a lot of stress and strain, but you know you're going to be a better person for it."
In addition to football, John was part of the wrestling and track teams at Minnetonka, earning seven Varsity letters. He was elected team captain in all three sports as a senior. Throughout high school he participated in the state wrestling tournament twice and the state track meet three times, competing in the shot put and discus events.
As a senior football player John not only played defense as a linebacker, he also played offense as a tackle. Upon completion of the season, John was named All-State and chosen to participate in the State All-Star Football game. He was also selected as the senior Outstanding Male Athlete by his 1982 classmates.
Looking back, John credits coaches like Joe Lane and Ray Christesen with teaching him valuable life lessons.
"One of the things I've seen over the years, that those coaches stressed, is that you give it your all and do better next time. You learn to ask, 'How am I not going to make that mistake next time, how can I be stronger, how can I overcome what I need to?'"
It wasn't all sports at MHS for John, who joined the Air Force in 1986 and has earned two Master of Arts degrees, however.
"There were so many great opportunities athletically and academically," he says. "You learned to balance it all, because you had to continue to bring the grades in, at least at my house."
For years after graduating from Minnetonka, John would come back to speak to kids at Minnewashta, where his old football coach, Bill Josephson, taught. He'd bring some Minnetonka classmates who were also in college.
"I just wanted to show the elementary students some kids who were trying to do their best," he says.
He was also showing them just how far you can go if you embrace the lessons of some very wise Minnetonka teachers.