CHARLOTTESVILLE — The Eastern Hancock High School football team’s run to the State Finals didn’t enthrall only Hancock County fans. It also captured the attention of Zionsville.
Royals head coach Pat Echeverria announced Monday that he has accepted the head coach position at Zionsville, pending the approval of the Zionsville school board next Monday.
Echeverria, a former Pike assistant, was head coach at EH for three seasons. His first team went 3-7, followed by a 6-6 mark in 2012, then this season’s 14-0 start leading to the Class A State Finals, where the Royals lost 20-10 to Tri-Central on Friday.
Before the beginning of the season, Zionsville coach Larry McWhorter announced that 2013 would be his last year with the Eagles. McWhorter, 151-50 in 18 seasons at Zionsville, resigned to take over the brand new Covenant Christian football program in 2014.
Zionsville competes in a Class 5A sectional that includes state power Indianapolis Cathedral. Overall, the Eagles’ schedule was ranked 13th toughest in the state this season by Sagarin.
Echeverria, 35, is looking forward to the challenge.
“Obviously, as a coach I have goals and aspirations to compete at the highest level,” said Echeverria, who informed his players of the decision Monday morning. “These kids and their hard work provided me with the opportunity to be considered for a good position like this.”
Echeverria’s resignation at EH is effective Dec. 31. He’s also a physical education teacher at the high school and middle school, with a focus on strength and conditioning, so a search for his replacement will begin immediately.
Athletic director Aaron Spaulding said it’s his intention to present a candidate to the school board that is a football coach as well as a PE teacher.
“With Pat being our strength coach, we’ll move rather quickly on this,” Spaulding said. “It will be difficult to get someone to the board in December, but certainly we’d like to have a candidate by the January meeting.”
The EH school board meets the second Monday of each month; the January meeting is scheduled for the 13th.
Echeverria, a Pike graduate, began his coaching career at DePauw University, where he served as an assistant for one year after playing football for the Tigers. The married father of two also was a high school assistant at Cascade and Perry Meridian before rejoining Pike from 2007-10.
He inherited an Eastern Hancock program that had fallen on hard times. In the four years prior to Echeverria’s arrival, the Royals posted three 2-8 seasons and a 1-9 campaign.
“We wish Pat nothing but the best,” Spaulding said. “When he got here, quite frankly, we weren’t very good. And he has done a tremendous job.”
McWhorter has apparently left Zionsville in better shape. The Eagles went 4-6 this year, but it was only the program’s second losing season of the last 20 years. The Eagles have 11 football sectional titles in school history, including four championships since 2000. They won the 1987 and 1996 3A state titles.
Echeverria was attracted to Zionsville not just for the football tradition, but by the town itself.
“It’s very similar to (Eastern Hancock) in that it’s a smaller community,” he said. “Obviously it’s a bigger version of it, but it’s rooted in a smaller community where the high school is kind of the center of attention. It’s similar in that regards. It’s just a bigger school.”
Zionsville has roughly 1,800 students, compared to Eastern Hancock’s 350.
This small, rural Hancock County school by the highway will forever remain etched in the coach’s memory.
“What I told the kids this morning was, these kids, this community, they took me in as one of their own, and they’re always going to have a special place in my heart,” Echeverria said. “I’ve grown up a lot as a man and a coach with these boys and I hope they’ve learned as much from me as I have from them.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience and, absolutely, I feel like I’m going to be a Royal for the rest of my life.”