NEWBERRY, SC – Newberry College announced the hiring of Zak Willis as the 17th Head Football Coach in the history of the Division II institution at a press conference at the Newberry Opera House this morning. Willis comes to Newberry from his three-year stint as the head coach at Pikeville (KY) College, where he helped start football in the 2000 season at the NAIA institution.
Newberry Athletics Director Andy Carter was head of the selection committee that brought Coach Willis to the Scarlet and Gray family.
“Zak’s connections and relationships with the coaches in South Carolina will be a great asset to our football program,” said Carter.
“His greatest asset, however, is his enthusiasm and the energy he displays. Zak’s attitude and expectation will generate a tremendous amount of excitement.”
Willis, 34, becomes the second youngest coach in the South Atlantic Conference, just a year older than fellow Furman Paladin alum Frankie DeBusk, who heads the Tusculum College program. The two were teammates at the Greenville, SC, Division I-AA program.
He begins his Newberry career with a 16-12 record as a head coach in three seasons, 9-11 in two years at the varsity level, including a 6-4 record a year ago at a school in its second year of varsity football. He inherits a Newberry football team that went 1-10 in the 2002 season, but returns all 11 offensive starters and seven defensive starters. Newberry begins its 90th season of collegiate football next fall.
Willis is a South Carolina native, hailing from McColl in the Upstate of South Carolina, a few miles from the North Carolina/South Carolina border.
He was a graduate assistant at the University of South Carolina for the four years prior to his time at Pikeville, under head coaches Brad Scott and Lou Holtz. He served as tight ends coach and assistant to the recruiting coordinator.
Prior to his time at USC, Willis was the defensive coordinator at Greenville (IL) College, leading that squad to league highs in turnover margin and rushing defense, while putting up number two total defensive numbers in the 1996 season, his last with the school. He coached eight All-Conference players and three All-Americans while at Greenville College.
Willis begins his recruiting duties for Newberry immediately, with stops planned at this weekend’s NC/SC Shrine Bowl in Rock Hill.
He returns to the Palmetto State with his wife, Marie, and two year old son, Zak.
“I’ve been very impressed with the Newberry administration with their commitment to athletics and to the students here,” said Willis. “This is a tremendous opportunity for me and my family. I think Newberry College will be an outstanding place for a student-athlete to come and work hard and receive a quality education.”
Newberry College is a proud member of the South Atlantic Conference, a league made up of eight colleges and universities in North and South Carolina and Tennessee.