Zach Stuart is right at home in Lamoni, Iowa, … coaching, that is.
While the Neosho native currently resides hundreds of miles from the town he grew up in, the opportunity to play, and then coach, a the collegiate level made his move a no-brainer.
He can’t help it, really. Coaching is in his DNA.
Stuart, 24, the son of longtime Neosho R-5 teachers Jim and Bernadette Stuart, makes his living as assistant baseball coach at Graceland University these days. A multi-sport standout at NHS from 2003-2006, Stuart quickly ascended into the coaching ranks after lettering three years in baseball as a pitcher and catcher at Graceland and four in football while playing quarterback, punter and kicker for the Yellowjackets.
When his career ended he turned to, what else? Coaching.
Like father, like son.
“It starts with my dad,” Stuart said. “Seeing him coaching and instilling sports and stuff into me is what got me hooked early on. Once you realize as an athlete you’re probably not going to make it (professionally), it’s easy to turn to coaching as a lifestyle. I know my mom wasn’t very hot with it in the beginning.”
Stuart got his foot in the door coaching at Interstate 35 High School in Truro, Iowa, under coach Jeff Douglas, where he helped assist two Roadrunners district championship teams. One of those teams even made it to the state tournament, a highlight for Stuart in his time there.
“That was a valued experience,” Stuart said.
Stuart went back to Graceland as a graduate assistant in 2011, before spending 2012 assisting catchers, outfielders and hitting at Ellsworth College and Alden High School (Iowa Falls, Iowa), where he helped guide the high school team to its first district title in years.
But through it all, Graceland University continued calling his name. He now works with pitchers and catchers with the Yellowjackets.
“I always figured there might be a chance that I’d end up back at Graceland,” Stuart said. “I just didn’t figure it would be this quick. Brady McKillip gave me a call and said that coach (Bill) Jackson was leaving (for Lake Land College in Mattoon, Ill.), and that the coaching position would be open and he wanted me to apply.
“I knew I’d have the opportunity to take ownership in a program. I’m enjoying it a lot. At first I was afraid of getting labeled as a pitching coach, but it’s really a lot of fun, focusing on one aspect of being able to help our guys day in and day out, and help the team win games.”
Page 2 of 2 - Recruiting is another beast. The year-round process has had Stuart scouting players from local spots like Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois to hopping a plane and flying to Venezuela. It’s strenuous work, he admits, and there’s not much time for rest.
But you won’t hear him complaining — it’s in his blood.
“I do enjoy recruiting,” he said. “It’s strenuous and tiring. At the NAIA level there’s no offseason and no breaks to recruiting. It goes from August to August. Once you get those kids on campus you start the process over. Last year I went to Venezuela for three days to watch a couple showcases down there.
“I wouldn’t give it up, it’s something that I want to do and want to continue to do,” he added.
Stuart’s Yellowjackets are now 11-11 this season at Graceland. This summer he’ll assist in the Jayhawk League, a summer collegiate wood-bat league, where he’ll be the pitching coach of the Derby (Kan.) Twins. Each stop gets his foot a little further inside the door, he says, and one day he hopes to step through it and become a head coach.
“It’s something I eventually want to get into, head coaching, and then work and try to find my way through the coaching ranks,” Stuart said. “But right now I’ve got my foot in the door and it’s a good spot to where I can build from.”
As for his younger siblings, Logan is a multi-sport athlete at NHS, while sister Rachel, 21, recently graduated from the University of Arkansas and is, you guessed it, an assistant with the Neosho girls’ soccer team.