Tony Zigman: From Lewes to Lexington and back

Former Kentucky football player reflects on life in Cape Region
March 31, 2020

Normally, Tony Zigman’s work is not this tricky.

Zigman’s business is selling heavy construction equipment throughout the Delmarva area, from as far north as Camden to as far south as Virginia. With the recent coronavirus outbreak, everyone has had to make adjustments, including Zigman.

“I’m moving along, but I’m not going by any offices. I’m limiting my job site visits. We’re just waiting for the job sites farther north to get shut down,” he said.

Zigman has been involved in construction equipment sales for most of his working life. A Beebe baby born in 1966, Zigman grew up in the Cape Region, the child of a father who graduated from Lewes High School and a mother who graduated from Rehoboth High School. 

He said growing up, he spent a lot of time playing outside; parents were much more trusting and let children be out by themselves.

“Everybody knew everyone,” Zigman said. “You’d drive into Rehoboth in the winter, and it was boarded up. There were two restaurants to go to and that was it.”

Zigman was into sports from an early age. His parents were both athletic, and the love of sports was passed down to him. Zigman started off playing youth baseball, and grew up to be a four-sport athlete at Cape High, playing baseball, basketball, track and football. He said basketball was his favorite sport, but football was what he was best at.

Zigman grew to be 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and was a natural at wide receiver and tight end. Following high school, he played for a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Fork Union, Va., a military boarding school known for its postgraduate football program. His athletic skill got him noticed by the University of Kentucky, which gave him an athletic scholarship.

“I was recruited as an athlete when they recruited me,” Zigman said.

After redshirting his freshman year, Zigman bulked up from 190 to 210 pounds. Zigman was coached by College Football Hall of Famer Jerry Claiborne, a disciple of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant who had played under Bryant at Kentucky and was an assistant under the Bear at the University of Alabama. From there, Claiborne had a highly successful tenure at University of Maryland before returning to coach his alma mater. 

Zigman said Claiborne was a quiet man who expected his players to be on the straight and narrow. Beards and long hair were not accepted on Claiborne’s watch.

“He was not a guy you were going to be friends with, but when he walked in, people straightened up,” Zigman said. 

Prior to his sophomore season, Kentucky was short on linebackers, so Claiborne asked Zigman to move over to the defensive side of the ball. While he missed catching the ball, Zigman said he was willing to do whatever it took for the team.

Zigman lettered for three years at Kentucky; one of the pictures on his Facebook page is of him tackling a University of Florida freshman named Emmitt Smith, who would go on to become the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

“Even then, you knew he was special,” Zigman said. “You couldn’t arm tackle him. He wasn’t the fastest, but he was strong.”

Following his career in Lexington, Zigman moved back to Delaware where he spent his time lifeguarding and working on the beach.

“Life was a little too easy,” he said.

So he packed up and moved back to Kentucky, this time to Louisville, home of UK’s archrivals, and soon started working in the construction industry. He spent 20 years in Louisville, where many of his friends were U of L alums, leading to a lot of good-natured ribbing.

“I didn’t hate them,” Zigman jokes. “I probably hate them more now than when I lived there.”

In the mid-2000s, Zigman reconnected with old friend and future wife Tracy. They first met in the early 1990s, and their families have always known each other. They spent a year in a long-distance relationship before they agreed that Tony would move back to Delaware. Their daughter, Isabella, aka Izzy, now 10, was diagnosed at age 5 with minimal change disease, a relatively rare kidney disease. The Zigmans are active with the Southern Delaware Kidney Walk and the National Kidney Foundation Walk.

Zigman used to take part in local 5K races, but a hip injury cut short his running days. He still plays basketball when he gets a chance.  While he has lived in big cities, Zigman said he doesn’t like the hustle and bustle of big cities.

“I like the beach,” he said, and there really is no place like home.

  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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