EHS Football Practice

A pack of Bulldogs take to the field during Ellensburg High School football practice prior to the 2017 season.

Jeff Zenisek is a familiar name in Ellensburg. A former football player at Central Washington University in the early 1980s who later returned as a coach and brought CWU a NAIA National Championship in 1995 under his tutelage.

Those years in the city of Ellensburg were sufficient to know that this was a place he and his wife envisioned themselves retiring.

So when the head coaching job for the Ellensburg High School football team became vacant, it was inevitable Zenisek was going to put his name is the ring.

“When I saw it open up, I thought, ‘What a great situation if it was to work out,’” he said.

And it did. EHS Athletic Director Cole Kanyer announced the hiring of Zenisek on Friday.

“We are thrilled to have Jeff leading our football program and for him to continue to build on the successful foundation of EHS football,” Kanyer said. “Jeff will have an immediate impact in both the athletic department and Ellensburg High School.”

Zenisek is coming from White River High School (2016-18), where he took them to a couple district post season berths. In those three seasons with White River, Zenisek compiled a 16-14 overall record. White River was 1-9 the year before he arrived.

Zenisek doesn’t plan on retiring soon, but with his youngest graduating high school this year, it was perfect timing to find a new home where they can hang their hats for a while for future retirement.

He will replace 22-year head coach Randy Affholter who accepted head coach job at Kennewick High school in February.

“Great wholesome people there, that part we really loved,” Zenisek said. “You get that sense of community no matter what and that’s what’s bringing us back.”

Prior to White River, Zenisek was at Thomas Jefferson High School where he was the News Tribune’s football coach of the year. He led Jefferson to its first outright league title in school history in 2015, winning the 4A South Puget Sound League. It went 7-3 and earned a district playoff berth.

PATH TO CWU

Zenisek transferred to CWU in 1980 from Mount Hood Community College and played his last two collegiate years for the Wildcats. After earning his bachelors in education, he became a graduate assistant for the football team while earning his masters. Zenisek then took a graduate position at Washington State University in 1984 while working on his doctorate.

His first head coaching position came in 1986 at Orcas Island High School until making his return to CWU as the defensive coordinator in 1990. In 1992, he was named the head coach for the Wildcats, and four seasons later, CWU won the NAIA National Championship with Jon Kinta as quarterback. CWU was the final seeded team to make the playoffs (No. 16).

Zenisek accumulated a 35-17-1 record before leaving in 1997 to become an assistant at the University of Northern Iowa. Then in 2001, he was head coach at Western State Colorado University.

After five years at Western State, he decided to be done with coaching all together.

“Things weren’t working out there, so it was time make a move — a change,” Zenisek said. “For me, too, I was getting burnt out — I really was. It was that time to maybe make a change because I had been coaching for a long time.”

He remembers his first Labor Day off, turning on College GameDay and it was the first time in years he was able to sit down and watch college football live. He watched every game — morning to dawn.

He would make trips back to Ellensburg and attend CWU games, and even make some trips to WSU. The itch to get back into coaching started to grow.

COACHING AGAIN

After moving back to Washington, Zenisek applied for the Mercer Island High School position in 2009 and got an interview, but a lot of people were skeptical because he hadn’t been in the prep ranks since 1990. But he was presented with the chance to be the defensive coordinator — and accepted it.

“It was really for me to see if I still could build relationships with student-athletes,” Zenisek said. “I really enjoyed it and had very good success building those relationships.”

This led to Zenisek taking the head coaching job at Tenino High School in 2010 and guiding them to its first league title since 1986 in the 2013 season.

EHS FOOTBALL PEDIGREE

Zenisek is euphoric about the physicality EHS football players bring and the culture Affholter has placed there.

He was at CWU game in 2016 and decided to leave at half time to watch EHS play Eatonville High School in the first round of state playoffs. Eatonville is known to have good sized kids, but the Bulldogs didn’t tremble, winning 38-6.

“They were just getting after it. They were physical and getting after it,” Zenisek said. “That’s the type of kids you get there — you really do. They love their sports and love excelling at them. I’m excited about that — I really am.”

The goals are always the same with each team he has coached: win a championship. He believes Ellensburg has a opportunity to get there every year and Affholter had done a great job at preparing kids.

Under Affholter’s helm, EHS had 10 post-season berths, seven league titles and four quarter final state appearances. Last season, EHS finished 6-5 overall and lost in the quarterfinals of state.

“It’s to take the team to the top,” Zenisek said. “We want to be in Tacoma Dome and that’s always a goal. My job is to get us there.”

Zenisek will also teach weight training and physical education.

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