By Ray Compton
A few years ago while defensive coordinator at Pike, he had a rack full of red shirts. Then out went the red and in came the royal blue when Echeverria took over as head coach at Eastern Hancock in 2011.
It is now time to introduce a new, bright color to the Echeverria line. Green. Green as in Zionsville Eagle green.
“It seemed like three-fourths of my closet had Eastern Hancock blue in it,” admitted Echeverria, who started his teaching and coaching duties at Zionsville in mid-January. “But, thankfully, Mr. [Greg] Schellhase has been getting me some green shirts.”
It was Schellhase who ignited the change of colors when the Zionsville athletic director tabbed the enthusiastic former DePauw offensive lineman to replace longtime Eagles coach Larry McWhorter. The opening popped up when McWhorter announced last summer that he was resigning his position to become the head coach at Covenant Christian.
For the first time in 18 years at Zionsville, there will be a different man in charge when the Eagles start summer training in June.
“There will probably be some subtle differences in our styles,” noted Echeverria when asked to compare his coaching philosophies and strategies to those McWhorter employed. “But I have always been impressed with Coach McWhorter’s teams. You are not going to see any major changes when it comes to blocking, tackling and teaching the fundamentals of the game.”
But there could be dramatic new concepts inserted into the Zionsville offensive schemes. During his three-year stint at Eastern Hancock, the former defensive coordinator at Cascade and Pike employed a no-huddle, shotgun spread offense. The results were astounding for the high-scoring Royals on the scoreboard and in the victory column. Echeverria’s first unit finished 3-7 and his 2012 squad hit the .500 mark at 6-6. The final chapter at the Hancock County school concluded with a 14-1 mark and a second-place finish to Tri-Central in the IHSAA 1A state tournament.
Echeverria downplays his importance in turning around the program.
“They had a great football tradition,” he noted, “but the program had come on some hard times. We found out that the kids cared and that they would run through a wall for you. There was also great parent support for the program.”
Midway through the 2013 season, the coach realized his team could be special during the state tournament.
“During the off-season, we believed we could have a very good team,” Echeverria said, “but then during the season have some ups and downs. We thought we could be on to something when we played Indian Creek. We were behind 19-0 and they had the ball at our 1-yard line. We held them for four downs and then had a 99-yard touchdown drive. That was when we started to believe.”
The journey to Lucas Oil Stadium did not surprise Royal athletic director Aaron Spaulding, who lured his coach from Pike.
“Zionsville can expect a coach who relates very well with kids and staff members,” Spaulding said. “He is innovative and not afraid to try new things. He is passionate about his profession.”
That passion for success started developing for Echeverria during his days at DePauw, where he grew from 245 to 285 pounds with extra time in the weight room. And his knowledge of football expanded under longtime DePauw coach Nick Mourousiz.
“He was the one who built my foundation in football,” the student said of his mentor. “Coaching was not on my radar until I played with Coach Mourousiz. He had great passion for the game and he cared for his players and coaches. That is the same philosophy that I want to have.”
Echeverria needed that caring for his players and coaches when the Royals lost the championship game, 20-10, last November.
“We were heartbroken after the game,” he recalled. “I know some of the players didn’t want to take home the red ribbons [for finishing second]. But we told them that it will still be a moment that they will remember a long time.”
Memory has played a role in many of the coach’s offensive strategies. The wide-open Royals scored more than 40 points six times last season. “I tried to remember the things that caused me trouble as a defensive coordinator,” Echeverria said. “We want to give the quarterback the option to read a play and decide what to do. “
The early start at Zionsville will provide the new coach an opportunity to “evaluate our talent” on offense and defense. And it will provide Echeverria, wife Valerie (an instructor at IUPUI) and their two daughters an early peek for a new home in Boone County. (They are now in the process of selling their Greenfield home.) But there is already knowledge of what Zionsville provides to a young family and what Friday night is like at the sparkling Zionsville football field.
“Everything is in place here,” said Echeverria. “It is an unbelievable community and it is a four-star school. The administration and facilities are excellent and the fans are great. It is a well-oiled situation.”
But the new coach also knows that he will be entering a minefield next August when the 2014 season unfolds in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference. Even though the three Lafayette schools (McCutcheon, Jeff and Harrison) are no longer in the league, heavyweights Brownsburg, Avon, Hamilton Southeastern, Fishers, Noblesville and Westfield (5A runner-up in 2013) are annually roadblocks to healthy victory totals.
“The conference is unbelievable,” said Echeverria, whose Eagles will face McCutcheon, Lebanon and Brebeuf as non-league games. “But we are looking forward to the challenges.”
And he is looking forward to wearing green on Friday nights.