Road to joy: Zach Yenser’s arduous journey to Berkeley

Kore Chan/Staff

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At just 24 years old, Zach Yenser had it all — the girl and the job. The girl was Beth, a recent college grad and a high school teacher. The job was head offensive line coach at Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ark.

With both girl and job in hand, Yenser bought an engagement ring.

But on Jan. 5, 2009, the day before Beth’s birthday and the day before he planned to propose, Yenser was fired. Coming off a season that saw the Reddies breaking school offensive records left and right, Yenser assumed his job was safe. Even with his contract expiring at the end of the month, Yenser never expected a dismissal — he expected an extension by February.

“I’ll never forget it,” Yenser says. “We’d been recruiting, and then it’s, ‘You’re fired.’ Then you’re like, ‘Holy crap.’ ”

Despite his cloudy future, he proposed to his girlfriend the next day. As an engaged and unemployed 24-year-old, Yenser scrambled to regain what he had lost.

“At the time, I just wanted a job. I wanted to be able to support my family with something that I loved to do,” Yenser says. “That’s what I always told my wife. I just want to coach football.”

After his dismissal, Yenser’s job search led him to Moultrie, Ga. Hired as the running backs and strength coach for Colquitt County High School, Yenser settled into his new home. Everything was fine, except for one thing: His fiancee stayed behind to work as a teacher in Arkansas.

For four months, Yenser and Beth were separated by a 10-hour commute, seeing each other only twice before their wedding week.

“There were a couple of months that we were engaged and didn’t know where we were going to live,” Beth says. “I spent many nights crying because I had no idea.”

After just one year of coaching high school, Yenser found himself back in the college football coaching ranks. Yenser’s offensive coordinator from Troy, Tony Franklin, locked down the same gig at Louisiana Tech under head coach Sonny Dykes. And it wasn’t long before Yenser was hired as an offensive line graduate assistant.

But with his foray back into college football came expanded workdays and a contracting wallet. For two years, the Yensers resided in what Beth calls a “crackerjack box of a house,” living month to month on a teacher’s and a GA’s salaries.

“You’re not making a bunch of money, you’re going to class, your wife is asking: ‘Is this worth it? Should we find go and find a high school (coaching job) and settle down with a family, and blah blah,’ ” Yenser says. “But you just gotta keep fighting. And obviously it’s what I wanted to do, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s what I’m going to do.”

When Beth gave birth to their son Graham last year at 8 a.m., Yenser spent the morning with his recovering wife and the brand-new addition to his family. But by the time the afternoon rolled around, he was back on the football field.

In 2012, Yenser was promoted to assistant offensive line coach. And throughout the season, the Louisiana Tech offense took flight. The Bulldogs finished the season with the highest-scoring offense in the nation en route to a 9-3 record.

Coinciding with Louisiana Tech’s offensive explosion was Jeff Tedford’s fall from grace at Cal. When Tedford was fired in December 2012, a candidate emerged: Sonny Dykes. After Dykes was hired as Cal’s next head coach, Franklin wasn’t far behind.

But for the Yensers, Dykes’ and Franklin’s path to the Pac-12 meant another hazy, unclear road ahead.

With Dykes and Franklin vacating their positions in Ruston, Yenser appeared to be heading back to his alma mater — receiving an offer to be Troy’s next offensive line coach.

The night prior to Yenser’s sojourn to Troy, his phone vibrated. On the other end of the line was Franklin, calling from Berkeley. He told Yenser to stay put in Ruston, urging him not to leave for Troy.

“I’m sitting on the couch, he’s sitting in a chair and he gets a phone call from coach Franklin,” Beth says. “I send my mother a text message, and I say, ‘Coach Franklin just called, surely it’s nothing.’ And then I can hear what Zach is saying on his end. And then I texted my mother, ‘Oh crap, it’s something.’ ”

Unfortunately, Franklin couldn’t officially hand Yenser a job at Cal. All Franklin could do was to tell Yenser an offer was coming from Dykes. By the the time the morning rolled around, nothing official had materialized, and the Yensers were left in the dark.

“We’re like, ‘OK, we need to go to Troy,’ ” Beth says. “ ‘Because if this doesn’t work out, then we need to get on the road.’ ”

Again, Franklin rang Yenser, pressing him to say put. He told them to go to dinner while Dykes met with Sandy Barbour, Cal’s athletic director. While he was sitting among his friends and family at dinner, Yenser’s phone vibrated again. But this time, it wasn’t Franklin with more what-ifs — it was Dykes.

On Jan. 23, Yenser was officially named Cal’s offensive line coach.

“It’s just funny: I look back on everything that led me to Troy, that led me to coach Franklin, that has led me to this,” Yenser says. “It’s crazy to think about being fired from Henderson State, and then four years later you’re coaching in the Pac-12 as an offensive line coach.”

Four years and 18 days after falling flat in Arkadelphia, Yenser landed steady on his feet in Berkeley — his dream girl by his side, his dream job secured.

Sean Wagner-McGough covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @seanjwagner.