When Chris Dudley was officially hired as head football coach and athletic coordinator at Cinco Ranch High in May, one of his first calls was to Zach Velliquette.
Velliquette, a standout cornerback for the Cougars from 2007-2009 who led the state in interceptions his senior year when Cinco Ranch made it to the state semifinals, was wrapping up his second year as a cornerbacks coach at Stratford High in Spring Branch ISD. Velliquette had yet to even wipe the sleep from his eyes when he got Dudley’s call in the early morning.
“He told me he got the job. He asked if I was interested,” Velliquette recalled. “Of course, I was. It’s always nice to come back home, where my roots started. I played here, had great success here. Loved the environment. I told him, ‘Tell me what day and what time, and I’m there.’”
Perfect match. And for Dudley, a pretty sweet first win.
“Zach was a kid who we knew was a coach, obviously, and even last year when I was at Taylor (as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator), he was going to a few of our games,” Dudley said. “He’s a good, young coach. He played at the college level, so he has that background as well. I know Coach (Chad) Simmons at Taylor tried to get him over there at one point too, but we were lucky enough to get him over here.”
Velliquette, 28, is the first Cinco Ranch football player to return to coach at his alma mater. He coaches safeties for the varsity and also has a significant role coaching defense on the freshman level.
When Velliquette talks, players are wise to listen. He averaged 3.1 tackles during his Cougars career and finished with 13 career interceptions. Velliquette had a state-best 10 picks in 2009.
“He was a competitor,” said Dudley, who was a linebackers coach at Cinco Ranch when Velliquette played. “He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he’d fight you and compete. He didn’t care who was across from him. He had to go against a lot of great receivers and he never backed down. He was very coachable and a leader. He’s the prototypical Cinco player, reliable and gets after it.”
After his Cinco Ranch career, Velliquette played football at Texas State in San Marcos. He played 35 games for the Bobcats, mostly on special teams and as a reserve safety.
Afterward, Velliquette, who majored in exercise and sports science, was a personal trainer for a few years before his brother Brett, a coach at Richmond Foster, persuaded him to get into coaching.
“I kind of wanted to get back into sports anyway,” Velliquette said. “I started to get back into it, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
His first stop was Stratford for the 2017-18 school year.
“Stratford taught me a lot and I loved it,” Velliquette said. “Good guys, young staff. I have nothing but good things to say about over there. But when Coach Dudley gave me that call … it was a no-brainer.”
For Dudley, Velliquette was an obvious choice. First, he had a clear passion for coaching and doing things the way they should be done.
Dudley said a young coach has to have trust from the coaching staff and a good relationship with kids. Velliquette checked off both boxes.
“You’ll see (young coaches) who come to watch practice or go to clinics and you know they’re serious about it. That’s part of it,” Dudley said. “Then, when you get them on your staff, you see if they have initiative on things. That’s always big with me, guys who show initiative and don’t just wait until they’re told what to do. Zach has that. When you give him something to do, he’ll get it done the right way.”
And second, Velliquette’s background knowledge of defensive backs was critical. Dudley said Velliquette has a “big-picture idea on things,” which is a good trait to have.
With so many adjustments necessary due to innovative offenses these days, it’s essential to have defensive backs who are cerebral and able to adapt and read varying formations, motions and pass routes while also being able to fit the run game.
There are a lot of moving parts back there, Dudley said. And because of that, Velliquette is key.
“As a young coach, to be well-coached on the back end, the DB portion of things, that is really a strong trait to have,” Dudley said. “That’s the hardest stuff to learn defensively. It’s much easier to learn the D-line and linebackers stuff. When you come in and can be an expert on the DB part of things, that’s going to really help you down the road, whether it’s to be a coordinator or a head coach.”
Velliquette said it is a different perspective being outside the sidelines. He said there is more pressure as a coach than as a player.
“It’s not just me out there. I had to adjust to that. I have to get other kids ready Monday through Thursday, so that they’re ready for Friday,” he said.
But he still takes the same time to prepare and study the game now just as he did when he was a player.
“To be the first alum in football to come back and coach, that’s awesome,” Velliquette said. “I have a lot of buddies that still come back every now and then, and I encourage them, ‘Hey, come back. Coach. You know the feel, you know the culture. You can come back home.’ It’s an honor to be here. I love it here and I love to be back.”