Zajac tabbed as new Spartan football coach

Jake Ryder

Everything lined up just right for Travis Zajac.

After nearly 20 years of coaching in the Dubuque area, Zajac will be the new Grundy Center football head coach, pending school board approval.

Brent Thoren resigned as the Spartans coach earlier this season, citing the need to spend more time with family.

Zajac's most recent coaching stint has been as head coach of Dubuque Wahlert's football program the last six seasons. He leaves Wahlert with an 18-38 overall record, helping lead the Eagles to two consecutive playoff appearances in 2014 and 2015 and back-to-back winning seasons in 2016 and 2017.

The Telegraph Herald newspaper in Dubuque reported that Zajac's back-to-back winning seasons with Wahlert were the first consecutive seasons above .500 for Wahlert since the early 2000s, and the consecutive playoff appearances were a first for Wahlert since a stretch of four-straight state appearances from 1994 to 1997. Wahlert has five playoff appearances in the 21 seasons since.

Wahlert went 0-9 last season in Class 3A District 4, a district that produced undefeated 3A champions Cedar Rapids Xavier and 3A runner-up Western Dubuque. The Eagles also had a tough non-district schedule, including West Delaware and Davenport Assumption

Zajac is familiar with how difficult Grundy Center's district was last fall, with three playoff teams coming out of Class A District 7, including Class A champions Hudson. The Spartans finished 5-4 overall and was fourth in the district at 3-3.

"I know Grundy Center has a rich football tradition," Zajac said. "I reached out to colleagues that had great things to say about the kids from there as well as the community and school system. It's an intriguing opportunity."

Taking the job in Grundy Center, where Zajac will also teach English, allows his family to be closer to relatives. Zajac's wife grew up in the Raymond/Gilbertville area.

"That was the big draw," Zajac said. "[Grundy Center activities director] Dan Breyfogle reached out to me to gauge my interest and I was very impressed when I went to interview."

So, too, was Breyfogle.

"He's definitely student-focused, whether it's in the classroom or on the athletic field and that stuck out to us," Breyfogle said. "He focuses on relationships and what's best for the student."

Zajac, 39, will finish the rest of the school year with Wahlert before moving to the Grundy Center area over the summer. He's excited for the unique opportunity to build new relationships in a new area, along with his daughter Lauren, 10, and son Ty, 8.

"I try like crazy to build a relationship with every single kid I coach," Zajac said. "If you can learn how to relate to a kid, you find ways to motivate them because they're all motivated a bit differently. ... I like to use the sport as a way to pass on valuable lessons, to have value in society beyond wearing a football jersey on Friday nights."

Zajac, born in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, played under Vince Brautigam at Mount Senario College, and Brautigam brought Zajac on as a graduate assistant coach when Brautigam took the head-coaching job at the University of Dubuque.

While Zajac rose through the coaching ranks with the Spartans from 2001 to 2008, Brautigam and his staff helped UD to its first back-to-back winning seasons since the mid-1980s in 2006-07.

Brautigam and his staff were let go after the 2008 season, however, and Zajac went to Wahlert as a linebacker/offensive line coach in 2009, followed by a year as the Eagles' defensive coordinator in 2010.

In 2011, Zajac returned to the Dubuque campus for a season where the Spartans won the Iowa Conference title and appeared in the NCAA D-III playoffs.

Wahlert gradually improved under Zajac in early seasons, helped by a move to district football in Class 4A that pushed the Eagles down to Class 3A. Mississippi Valley Conference teams were required to play in Class 4A before the district change. Before Wahlert's winless season last fall, Zajac's Eagles teams had increased or remained steady in win totals year over year.

Grundy Center presents a smaller school district and different opportunities from the Dubuque metropolitan area.

"Grundy Center stands out on their own in this area as a school that hasn't combined with other districts like Aplington-Parkersburg or Dike-New Hartford," Zajac said. "They're on their own and I think that's a source of pride for them there. I'm interested in learning more about that history."

The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

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