Nestled among the wind turbines in the Southern California mountain range between Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley and Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, Tehachapi proudly proclaims itself as "The Land of Four Seasons" with signs along state highway 58.
But there's little doubt which is the favorite season among the nearly 14,500 residents of the little town known for the Indian Point Ostrich Ranch - football season.
"Football was the main thing in that town," said Daniel Ziegler, who grew up in Tehachapi. "It was a really big deal. ... I can remember practicing when it was in the 90s outside when we were 8 and 9 years old. It's just what you did, because football was huge there. I think playing in that type of environment helped prepare me to play football just about anywhere. It was just such a heavy football town."
Needless to say, it was a pretty big shock to the system for Ziegler when his family moved to Bellingham before his sophomore year and he enrolled at Sehome, and not just because of the change in temperature.
"It was a huge change," Ziegler said. "When we lived down there, football was it, especially in the fall. Here at Sehome, it's more about cross country and tennis and stuff. But with the new coaching staff here at Sehome, we're hoping to change that all around."
Ziegler is a big part of the reason why the Sehome football team believes it can do just that.
Entering tonight's city showdown with Squalicum at Civic Stadium, the multi-purpose Ziegler has rushed for 247 electrifying yards and passed for 191 more.
"Right away, you could tell that Daniel was a kid that was fun to be around and was excited about football," first-year Mariners coach Bob Norvell said in a phone interview. "At Sehome, there hasn't always been all that much excitement around the football program, but he brought a lot of energy to practice. I think it was from his days of playing down in California. ... He grew up in an area where football is a big deal. He roots for (USC), which is a football dynasty. His has a different set of expectations when it comes to football. Some of the kids on our team, I'm not sure they ever watched a game of football before this year. They were like, 'Football, it might be neat to try that out.' But Daniel grew up playing it and he expects to be successful at it."
Ziegler, who was voted a captain as a junior, also expects to work hard to be successful at the game he loves, as Norvell said his excitement for the game spilled over to the weight room during the offseason and played a role in getting a number of his teammates in there, as well.
"You just can't get rid of him," Norvell said. "He's the first one at practice and the last one to leave, because he just loves this game. He's a great kid, and you can tell he had a great up bringing. The other kids love to be around him, because he is so excited about this game. We came into the season hoping some of that excitement would rub off on some of the other guys."
Boy has it.
After last week's surprise 30-29 win at Burlington-Edison, Sehome (2-4, 2-2 NWC 2A/3A) finds in the middle of a serious postseason race in October for the first time in years, and Ziegler is a big part of the reason why.
Ziegler has scored nine touchdowns so far this year - more than half of the Mariners' total of 17, and he's passed for another two scores. Five of the touchdowns he's scored have come on plays of 50 or more yards, including a pair of 95-yard kickoff returns. The other four weren't gimmes either, ranging in length from 11 to 18 yards.
"It's nice to be able to help out the team," Ziegler said modestly. "But when I score on those long plays, it's not just one person doing it. All the touchdowns happened because of my blockers or my line up front. ... I've been the spotlight cause I get the ball, but all of my big plays have come from my line."
But those plays probably also wouldn't have happened without someone with Ziegler's lightning-quick natural abilities, either.
The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder said he timed a preseason 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds this summer, but he's also quick on top of being speedy.
"His feet are amazing," Norvell said. "He's already fast, and he can make these little moves. He's not very big, but he can make these cuts. He does a couple little shakes, and nobody is going in the same direction as he is anymore. He is a force one-on-one."
So much so, that both sidelines are starting to hold their breath every time the ball ends up in Ziegler's hands.
"Our guys are almost disappointed when he has a regular play," Norvell said. "That's the type of quality of expectations he has brought to this team."
Ziegler burst onto the scene in the second week in a game at Ferndale, when he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. That play seemed to inspire Sehome and get the Mariners to believe they could compete with the traditionally powerful Golden Eagles.
But as the game wore on those feelings started to fade, as Brice Longanecker went down with a neck injury and quarterback Austin Rapp was ejected from the game, and Ferndale managed to build a 35-13 advantage.
Ziegler stepped in behind center in the fourth quarter and immediately gave the Mariners a jolt, breaking off a 60-yard touchdown run. After Sehome tacked on a safety, Zeigler added a 50-yard TD on another keeper to make to make it 35-29 and force Ferndale to reinsert its starters to run out the clock.
"I think that game was a turning point in guys believing we could win," Ziegler said. "Our team gets excited when we make big plays."
A week later, Ziegler completed all 12 passes he attempted, rushed for another TD and directed a 47-14 victory over Anacortes to the chants of "Ziggy" from the Sehome student section.
Then last week at Burlington, he returned another kickoff for a touchdown after the Tigers had tied it up in the second quarter. He later added scoring runs of 59 and 12 yards to give the Mariners a 27-7 lead and got the team believing it could pull off an upset of a conference power.
"I think that Burlington win showed people that we know how to play football at Sehome, too," Ziegler said. "I think a big part of it was having Coach Bob come over here from Burlington. We did a lot of preparation for them, and I'm not sure they were ready for us. They were thinking it would just be another game against Sehome, and they really weren't expecting us to come out there and smack them in the mouth like that. I think it gives us a lot of momentum for the next three games, and we need to play well, because we have some big games that will impact whether we get into the playoffs. That win was a huge confidence booster, because we played so well."
It's evident that the rest of Ziegler's teammates are starting to share in his excitement for playing football.
FOOTBALL PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sehome's Daniel Ziegler was selected The Bellingham Herald's Football Player of the Week in an online vote.
Ziegler received 54.2 percent of the 83 votes cast in our Player of the Week contest to beat out Lynden's Luke Christianson, Ferndale's Hank Hilts and Mount Baker's Jake Schleimer for the award.
Check out the Saturday and Sunday editions of The Bellingham Herald for all the coverage from Week 7 and be sure to cast your vote for the Football Player of the Week at our High Schools page next week.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.