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Zapien ready to zero in on a stronger Pasadena program

March 18, 2019

The sport that David Zapien thought he had put in his rear-view mirror for good after his freshman year in high school is now at the forefront to the athletic life he has embraced since his youth.

At age 34 or about 20 years after Zapien waved goodbye to Sam Rayburn High School’s football program so he could concentrate on cross country, is on a football field-shaped Cloud 9, complete with goalposts, now that he’s been named Pasadena High School’s new head football coach.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s exciting. Trying to go from what coach (Jeff) Ganske has done for 30 plus years and building upon that, is something that’s going to be new to the kids with a little different philosophy. The enthusiasm is up and everybody’s excited,” Zapien said.

Life can be so unpredictable and this is about as unpredictable as one can get.

Who could have ever guessed that a former Sam Rayburn High School cross country runner would one day be named to lead Pasadena’s football program?

On Fridays in the fall of 2001, cross country was Zapien’s world not football. The only Friday night lights he knew then were either at his house or driving down Spencer Highway.

Sure, Zapien may have been in the seats for the Sam Rayburn-South Houston football game on Oct. 26, 2001 in what turned out to be a barnburner, with the Trojans prevailing in overtime 37-36, but on the morning of Oct. 26, 2001, football was the furthest thing from his mind.

Zapien was at Deussen Park, the grass covered in morning dew, as he and six fellow Rayburn runners toed the starting line for the District 22-5A cross country championship.

The chances of Rayburn advancing to the regional run appeared slim. Eventual 5A state champion Kingwood dominated the Deussen Park course that morning. With all seven Kingwood runners finishing in the top 14, Zapien couldn’t break up the pack. He did give Rayburn its fifth and final scoring runner, 27th place, reaching the finish line in 16:36. For scoring purposes, he was 26th.

Like that morning and all the other mornings he departed a cross country starting line, Zapien was fond of competing, no matter if a future state champion was at the line with him or not.

Now at age 34, it’ll be Zapien’s opportunity to try and make Pasadena’s football program fond of competing.

“For us, we’ve got to get more numbers. We’re trying to get more kids out who haven’t been playing. This year, in terms of freshmen and JV and varsity, I think we have a net gain of over 10 kids. Now we have a person in charge of that,” Zapien said.

As long as anyone can remember, Pasadena has always had concerns with depth because the numbers in the program aren’t strong. Zapien says Pasadena’s numbers are equal to a 4A and even a 3A program. He should know since one of his football stops before returning to his hometown was at West Oso High School in Corpus Christi, currently a 4A school.

“On Monday, I went to Queens and today, I’m going to Jackson so it’s just non-stop of introducing myself and making sure we have those connections. After spring break, we’re going to two days a week to Jackson and two days a week to Queens. Hopefully, we’ll start building numbers and they’ll stay up. It’s going to take a couple of years, but I think we’ll get there,” Zapien said.

As for the product on the field, plenty will be taking place between now and mid-August when Pasadena will host Baytown Lee in one scrimmage and travel to Kempner for a second practice game.

Zapien, who had been Pasadena’s offensive coordinator, is shopping for a new quarterback, a new running back just to name a couple of crucial positions where the vacancy sign is flashing.

“Offensively, we’re really not changing too much because the kids know the system. There might be a few wrinkles like speed the game up some. Other than that, we’re not changing,” he said.

Zapien, who was just 23 when he landed his first head coaching job as a baseball coach, is also very aware that Pasadena’s offensive numbers were very one-sided towards the run game last year and the year before that and so on.

That’s OK if the horse you’re riding is a thoroughbred. Dobie and Kingwood, two of the district’s state playoff teams last fall, also had one-sided stats favoring the running game, but they were riding thoroughbreds and sometimes more than one.

Defensively, Zapien does want to rearrange the furniture.

“The defense is going to change. We’re moving to a four-man front next year. We’re going to bring a coordinator in. We just posted that job. We’ve been playing a three-man front for the last three seasons,” said Zapien.

Zapien wants to place a special emphasis on the battles in the trenches.

“We are emphasizing the battle up front. Size does matter but we can control it. We’ve got one kid squatting over 500 and probably four or five squatting over 425. So our big emphasis right now is up front. We’re going to try and win the game up front where we move people off the ball. I think that’s where it really starts,” Zapien said.

Then Zapien and his staff want the players to help the program on and off the field by setting high goals. He calls it the “Leadership Academy” and the name speaks for itself.

“That’s one thing we’re trying to change this off-season. We want our kids to be leaders not followers. We’re trying to teach them life lessons within football,” Zapien said.

The decal on Pasadena’s football helmet is changing and it won’t be for artistic purposes.

“We’re changing the decal on our helmet to have five feathers on the side. Each feather represents a core value. Our core values are mental toughness, character, compete, enthusiasm and academic excellence. So in order for them to get their decal on their helmet, they have to know each core value and what it means,” Zapien said.

Because of his deep roots in Pasadena, Zapien plans on spending every waking minute pursuing ways to greatly improve the football program in Eagles Country.

“Just to come back home is amazing. It’s special to get a head coaching job but it’s beyond your wildest expectations to do it in your hometown. It’s been really awesome. My family is just nothing but Pasadena. All the schools are represented in my family. All of us grew up here and now one of us is a head coach here,” Zapien said.

ravery@hcnonline.com