WOLCOTT — Not only is Sam Zachery leaving Tri-County’s football program, he’s leaving it for a new sport.
Zachery resigned after two years as TC’s football coach to fill the boys’ basketball position at North Newton. He announced his decision on June 10 and TC athletic director Jeff LeBeau began seeking applicants for the football job on June 11.
“We have some interest,” LeBeau said. “We’re accepting applications right now and will start the interview process very soon.”
Not many first- and second-year coaches had the success Zachery enjoyed on TC’s football sideline. The Cavaliers went 15-6 in his two seasons, winning a Midwest Conference title in 2017 and placing second in 2018.
“We had two kids named Lafayette J & C’s players of the year in back-to-back years for the first time at Tri-County,” Zachery said of former TC quarterbacks Dalton Justice and Kale Lawson, who won J & C Small School titles in 2017 and ’18.
It’s a return to his roots for Zachery, who starred in basketball while a student/athlete at Sheridan. While his older brother Nick was receiving Mr. Football votes for leading Sheridan to four straight Class A finals (winning three), Sam was forging a successful career on the hardwood.
“It was tough following in his footsteps,” Zachery said of his brother, who snared a football scholarship at Indiana University. “I tried something new for myself and that was basketball.”
Zachery walked on Saint Joseph’s College’s men’s basketball program but left after a few weeks.
“It wasn’t fun for me,” he said.
Zachery stayed on as a student at SJC and landed an assistant football coaching job at North Newton under then-coach Jeff Bean.
He took what he learned from Bean and Hall of Fame coach Bud Wright at Sheridan and installed it into Tri-County’s football program. He was just 22 years old when he took the Cavaliers’ head coaching job.
“When I took over, the first thing we did was made sure the kids bought into the system from day one,” he said. “Eventually the expectations for myself and the kids were we were going to go out, play hard and win.
“Fortunately, I had two groups of kids who were very athletic and were used to winning at the lower levels.”
Former TC coach Eric Davis led the Cavaliers to a 5-5 finish the year before Zachery took the position.
“He definitely picked up where coach David left off,” LeBeau said. “He had kids buy into his system and they were successful.”
Zachery hopes to rekindle the boys’ basketball program at North Newton like he did at TC. The Spartans have had 13 straight losing seasons, including a 2-21 finish under former coach Jess Funston in 2018-19.
North Newton’s last winning season (13-9) came under former coach Bob Gonczy during the 2005-06 season.
“If you look at recent history,” Zachery said, “North Newton has won two sectional titles over the last two years in football and baseball. Those same kids are playing basketball, so there’s no reason why they can’t be successful.
“We’ve got to look at being better with the fundamentals and playing as a team. We do those things and I think we can be successful in basketball.”
Zachery becomes North Newton’s fourth boys’ basketball coach in four years.
“It will definitely be a new challenge for him,” LeBeau said. “Hopefully he won’t call a play-action pass his first time out. But he had a lot of those kids during his first start in education, and I think he was looking forward to working with those kids again.”
A junior high teacher in Social Studies at Tri-County, Zachery will teach seventh-grade mathematics at North Newton. He will also be surrounded by familiar faces, including former TC principal Cathy Rowe, who was recently named the new superintendent at North Newton.
North Newton’s new athletic director, Mike Atwood, coached football at Delphi with Zachery’s older brother, Brett.
“It was a hard decision to make,” Zachery said of leaving Tri-County.
“It’s a great community, and it was one thing I was shocked at. People were willing to do anything for you. They would say we need a fundraiser and would immediately begin putting something together. They would say we’ll roast the hog and make the food and sell tickets, and I’d say, ‘okay.’ They did it all because they really wanted the football program to succeed. I’m really going to miss those parents and that community.”