Barry Zehnder doesn’t want to be the next Butch Simpson.
But he does want to carry on some of the traditions that Simpson entrenched while coaching the Newark High football team to 284 wins and nine DIAA Division I state championships over 39 seasons.
Zehnder, 37, was a quarterback, receiver, running back, defensive back and linebacker for the Yellowjackets from 1994-96. Simpson retired at the end of last season, and Zehnder was hired in March as his replacement.
“I don’t feel like I have to live up to coach Simpson,” the new coach said last week. “Obviously, people always replace legends. I feel like I have to live up to the school and the community, by teaching these guys how to do things right.
“Not only carrying on the Newark tradition, but how to be the guys that throw away their trash in the building. How to be the guys that get to class on time. How to be the guys that the teachers and administration go to for things.”
Winning football games would be nice, too. The Yellowjackets, coming off a 5-5 season, open at home against St. Mark’s on Sept. 9.
“We don’t necessarily have that superstar kid,” Zehnder said. “We’ve got a bunch of could-be-good high school football players.
“Are they going to run past you? No. Are they going to knock you down every time? No. But they’re going to do what they need to do to compete and win that play.”
Newark has a returning starter at quarterback in senior Andrew DelPercio. Hard-nosed LB-RB Alex Pollard, WR Mekhi Pressey and WR-DB Isiah Velez will also be among the key contributors.
But the big (as in 6-foot-4, 285 pounds) surprise could be the emergence of two-way lineman Tyreek Booker, a senior who has moved football ahead of basketball on his list of priorities.
“He’s just now realizing football could be his future,” Zehnder said of Booker. “You very well could see him playing at a bigger [college]. The sky is the limit for him.”
The Yellowjackets will run a multiple offense, with variations of the spread, I-formation and shotgun all in the playbook. Zehnder prefers a 3-3-5 defense that keeps it simple to allow for less thinking and more attacking.
After earning his degree from the University of Delaware, Zehnder spent one year as a UD graduate assistant, two years at Widener University, five years at Glasgow and two years at Newark before his only season as a head coach, a 1-9 mark at struggling Christiana in 2011. He then spent four years coaching defensive backs at Middletown before becoming a head coach again at his alma mater.
Simpson is still around, but is keeping his distance.
“We’ve had a few conversations, and he’s always willing to help,” Zehnder said. “He has let me know, ‘If you need me, I’m here.’ But also, I think he feels like if he’s around, eyes gravitate toward him.”
One of Simpson’s traditions was always stopping practice when a former coach or player dropped by. He would introduce them and ask them to tell a story about their time at Newark. Zehnder isn’t about to change that.
“The first person I got to do that with was coach Simpson,” he said. “He showed up to the weight room one day, and I stopped everybody and said, ‘This is coach Simpson.’ That was a special moment for me, because I remember the first time I came back and he introduced me.”
Now, it’s time for Zehnder to put his own stamp on Newark football.
Elsewhere around Flight A
CONCORD could go a long way behind the Roberts brothers. Senior FB-LB Avery Roberts has committed to Nebraska, and junior RB-SS Grahm “Bam” Roberts has the potential to be a similar recruit. The Raiders also have experienced front lines and another explosive runner in junior Brandon Dennis.
MIDDLETOWN is in the state title hunt every year, and the return of split ends Jalen Whitehead, Kenny Edelin and Anthony DelPercio could have the Cavaliers going to the air early and often.
Zachariah Burton’s move from receiver to quarterback could be key for WILLIAM PENN. The Colonials will also need an inexperienced line to mature quickly, but return a running threat in RB Joe Greenwood and could get a boost from RB Angelo Ortiz, a St. Georges transfer.
Senior QB Kenyon Yellowdy, two-way lineman Jackson Truitt and junior HB Derek Thompson lead what could be an explosive offense at APPOQUINIMINK, as the Jaguars look to put together their first winning season in six years.
MOUNT PLEASANT earned its first taste of the postseason since 1981 last year, but the Green Knights lost much of that team to graduation. Lineman Sam Mousley and RB Nyair Small will be among the key players trying to keep the success going.
WR-CB Mahkai Lee is the top returnee at A.I. DU PONT, which will need major contributions from a talented sophomore class to improve on last year’s 4-6 mark.
An experienced senior quarterback always helps, and CHARTER OF WILMINGTON has one in Carter Lamey. The Force also return many other pieces from a 2-8 team looking to improve.
DELCASTLE is working hard for a turnaround under coach Mike Lemon, but it won’t be easy with few experienced players tackling a tough schedule. The offensive and defensive lines appear to be the Cougars’ strength.
Contact Brad Myers at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.