AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — There are over 7.6 billion people walking on planet Earth, and of those, only 32 men get the privilege to hear their name called in the first round of the NFL draft every year.
Amarillo native Evander “Ziggy” Hood is one of those 32 men. Drafted in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hood went on to have a stellar 11-year career in the National Football League.
Now the big man is back at his alma mater, doubling as a defensive line coach and biology teacher.
“It’s great, I grew up here, I’m familiar with the area, familiar with the community,” Hood said. “There’s so much talent, I’m not talking about just sports wise, there’s so much that the north side can provide, and we’re not collectively pushing each other. So hopefully with my experience, whether that’s life or football, I can push kids to try to achieve their best.”
Hood comes back to the Dons bringing that drive and passion of winning and helping people, as he works to change the culture of the PD football team.
“The mood, the excitement around here, I know we’ve got a long way to go, and it’s not where you start, it’s where you end,” he said. “But people forget about the journey in between. The steps, and when you achieve what you want to achieve, you get a chance to look back and see how far you’ve come, it makes you feel even better that it was all worthwhile.”
Before coming back to PD, Hood participated in an NFL coaching internship with the Washington Football Team, and had a stint at Navarro College in Corsicana. He says both experiences helped prepare him for this opportunity.
“When you deal with the professional level, then you go collegiate wise, then you get to high school, now you’ve seen different levels, different mindsets, different personalities,” he said. “It’s still something I have to learn. It’s different because I can tell a professional player or a collegiate player, a certain move to do this, but here in high school, you’ve got to start from the base. You can’t go from A, B and C. You’ve got to go 1A then 2A, 3A, then we move on to B.”
During his high school days, Hood worked at a local Sonic for two years. He says that experience mixed with the love and support of his parents, Charles and Mary, are part of the foundation of his blue collar work ethic.
“Working there taught me a lot. It kept me humble, it kept me grounded,” he said. “At the end of the day, I was just a normal kid trying to make some pocket change and put gas in my car, and not only that, stay out of trouble after I got off of work.”
When Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin called Hood to welcome him to his new home, he had a few jokes about his former job.
“Getting the call from him, it goes silent for a little bit, because everybody’s trying to hear it, and they see me,” he said. “All of a sudden, Coach Tomlin is on the other end, talking about, ‘Hey, you mind if I order me an Extra Long Chili Cheese Coney? You wanna bring that here to Pittsburgh?’ The minute I heard that, the smile went across my face, people start yelling, and it went blank from there.”
Over the course of his NFL career, Hood suited up for the Steelers, Washington Football Team, Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints. He also made an appearance in Super Bowl 45 against the Green Bay Packers, and had a sack in a critical part of the game on Aaron Rodgers.
“I’ve seen it all, from first round draft pick, going to the Super Bowl, lost it, being at the very bottom to where I was getting cut, traveling from different team to team,” he said. “I experienced on a true roller coaster, which is great, it doesn’t bother me, I loved that experience. Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do things different? I would tweak a couple of things, but everybody would in their lifetime.”
The relationships he formed during his time in the NFL? Priceless.
“I served alongside some of the greatest coaches, some of the greatest players, and that’s one thing you can’t take away,” he said. “I shared a locker room with a lot of guys who are Hall of Fame already or potentially Hall of Fame.”
If you talk to people around the community who have known Hood or worked alongside him, his success and humble, hard working demeanor come as no surprise.
“You see the smile on my face!,” said PD Football Head Coach Eric Mims. “I’m excited to have Coach Hood man. He’s here to give back to Amarillo, Texas. Small kids will be encouraged to keep pushing hard and make good grades. He’s a great role model for our students here at Palo Duro, he’s a great role model for our community and for the city of Amarillo.”
“Ziggy was a good student, and a good kid,” said Eddie Prock, Science Teacher at PDHS, and one of Hood’s former teachers. “He was always at school on task, he didn’t mess around, he did what he was supposed to do.”
To others, his legacy goes beyond sports.
“He’s more than just a football player and a coach,” said Jacquel Love, who played against Hood during his high school days at Caprock. “I wish the city would recognize that a little more and give him his respect and the props that he deserves. He’s a legend man!”
“I talk to him on the phone about, ‘Hey, how was practice today? What are y’all looking like in the game?’ He tells me about the kids themselves, he brings them up by name, he just tells me, ‘Hey look, this is what they’re doing, we’re hoping he gets through school, we’re trying to move towards the right direction, we’re trying to change the atmosphere.”
As the father of two sons, one of whom is autistic, Hood says he’s thankful for the opportunity to teach others about adversity in life.
“Giving me the opportunity to share my life story and provide some other man the opportunity to feel emotions and feel like, ‘Hey, it’s ok to talk, it’s ok to express feelings,'” he said. “Because as men, we’re taught to be tough, we’re taugh to be x, y, and z, but them days of walking around and acting like nothing bothers you is not healthy, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for your soul.”
Hood says the one thing he challenges his players and students to do is keep going. Even when they fail and things don’t look good.
“You can fail all you want, as long as you keep grinding and keep sticking to what you’re doing, stick to the blueprint, you’re going to have success, regardless,” he said. “No matter how long it takes, even if you had to switch it up and go in a different direction. Keep failing, because that’s the best way to learn.”
Great high school career, standout college career, first round draft pick, and a stellar NFL career. What’s the one thing Hood hasn’t done?
“I still haven’t went to Braum’s and got me a banana split yet.”
(Full interview with Ziggy Hood below.)