A spot on the Derby football coaching staff was a long time coming for David Tullis and Taylor Zeka.
Tullis, who is a 2014 Panther graduate and was a part of the 2013 state championship team, envisioned what it might look like to one day be on the coaching staff. Zeka, a Wellington native, forged a relationship with coach Brandon Clark over the last nine years and aspired to one day to be a part of
Zeka will take over for Brady Rust as quarterbacks coach, while Tullis will coach safeties. The Derby graduate replaces Mitch Pontious, who became an assistant principal at Derby Middle School.
“I always thought [returning to Derby] might be an option for me, but I really didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do right away after school,” Tullis said. “Eventually it hit me that I had the opportunity to come teach and coach at Derby and it’s pretty awesome.”
Tullis was the starting long snapper at Kansas State before graduating in May. He snapped on all 55 punt attempts as a senior and also earned first-team Big 12 all-academic honors.
Taking over as safety coach is a full-circle swing as it was the same position he played when he caught the game-winning interception against SM East on Nov. 30, 2013.
“Butler coaches would always call back and rave about how David was the hardest worker on the team,” Clark said. “Same thing happened at Kansas State. You’d talk to his strength and position coaches and they went on and on about how David is a leader and a hard worker… He’s going to bring that to our staff and our team too.”
As a program alum, the door was open to Tullis to return if desired. With the shift of Pontious to DMS and now defensive coordinator Austin Wuthrich moving to physical education, it was timed perfectly.
“We followed David at Kansas State and I’ve known his dad [Allen] for a long time as a fellow PE teacher,” Clark said. “I’ve been in constant contact with David and knowing when he’d graduate, we wanted to see if he’d be able to get a position teaching history. Once he did, we hired him on the football staff.”
Zeka played quarterback and was a part of two state championship teams (2001 and 2002) with the Crusaders, playing for now Winfield coach Linn Hibbs. He went on to Butler Community College before serving as a graduate assistant at the University of Oklahoma.
The Wellington graduate spent time coaching baseball and football at Broken Arrow (Okla.), Chaparral and Mulvane before joining Clark’s staff this summer.
“Taylor and I are really good friends,” Clark said. “Our families are close and we got together all the time even before he joined the staff. He’s worked out with our coaches in the morning at the high school.”
From Hibbs (Wellington) to Troy Morrell (Butler) and Kevin Wilson and Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Zeka said his coaching and playing career has helped shape him for this opportunity.
“I’ve noticed that all these coaches have that ingredient for winning,” Zeka said. “They all know it and it’s dedication, hard work, staying positive and being disciplined. Coach Clark is the same… They’re all very positive leaders.”
With Tullis returning to his alma mater, it now makes it six Derby graduates on the coaching staff. He joins Erick Hendrick, Chris Devore, Todd Olmstead, Jarrod Foster and Chris Pinaire.
“A lot of these guys coached [David] and we’ve known him since second grade,” Clark said. “… One thing about David is when he played at Derby he had to fight for his position. He had to do everything he could, so he knows the mental and physical part of it. He always goes 100 percent.”
Trading a helmet and pads for a Derby polo and khakis on a Friday night will be an adjustment, but Tullis is ready for the change.
“I was just talking to someone about it the other day,” he said. “… You walk out [at Panther Stadium] and smell the burgers, brats and hot dogs and [see] the green in the stands. I’m ready for it.”
Still re-acclimating back to Derby, Tullis said it has been a happy homecoming.
“It feels good to come back to a place you know well and know the community,” he added.