Josh and Stephanie Zoucha both spend their Friday nights on the sidelines with Southwest High School’s football team, but they do it for different reasons.
Josh is calling plays for and providing encouragement to the Southwest football team, of which he’s been head coach for five-plus years. Stephanie, his wife, is helping the Southwest cheer team motivate the crowd after becoming a volunteer coach for the squad last fall.
The arrangement leads to plenty of long days and late nights for the Zouchas, but neither seems to mind too much, even if it means significantly less free time in the fall.
“It’s just during the football season, there’s got to be this understanding that our lives are going to be a lot different,” Josh said.
A native of Norfolk, Nebraska, Josh was an offensive lineman in high school, before playing two seasons of college football at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. Stephanie grew up several hours southwest of Norfolk, in Grand Island, Nebraska, where she was a member of her high school marching band’s flag team.
The two met about 14 years ago through a friend of Josh’s brother, and Stephanie eventually moved to Minneapolis, where Josh was living at the time. They married in 2008.
Josh joined the coaching staff at Southwest around that time, helping the team to one of its most successful seasons in recent history in 2012. He became head coach in 2013 and led the Lakers to a section championship appearance the following year.
Stephanie, meanwhile, was active among the team’s parents and attended all of the team’s games. Her entry into cheerleading came last year, when a student approached Josh and Southwest’s athletic director with a proposal to restart the squad.
Southwest hadn’t had a cheer team for 12 years when the student made her pitch last fall, according to Josh. He said the athletic director was receptive but that the school didn’t have the funding to hire a coach.
Stephanie and two others decided to volunteer for the job.
“When the student reached out to me, I received a very professional email with the proposal and the request for the volunteer coach,” Stephanie said. “I just couldn’t say no.”
About 15 girls joined the team last fall, Stephanie said, a number that’s increased to 20 this fall. The squad is on the sidelines for all of the football team’s games, while also participating in football team dinners and events.
“We treat them as family,” junior football player TK Marshall said. “They come to the team dinners with us, they eat food with us … kind of more of a family thing.”
Marshall, a running back, is part of a junior class that is hoping to lead the team to a winning season this fall. He and several other juniors were starters as freshman when the team went 1-8, before helping the Lakers to a 4-5 mark last fall.
The team was 1-2 as this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press and was scheduled to play St. Paul Johnson on Sept. 21.
Josh said he’s hoping the team can improve upon its 4-5 mark from last year, while noting that several players, including Marshall, have the potential to play in college. Stephanie quickly added that Josh’s expectations for the players go beyond the football field, noting the academic expectations he has.
“His goal is to ensure that the kids are students and that they can go onto secondary education and do something that they love,” she said.
Josh works at Southwest as a teacher-administrator, which helps the players stay on top of their studies, Marshall and senior kicker Andrew Rowander said. Rowander added that Josh is always positive as a coach and that he is always talking about the possibilities of what the players can accomplish.
“He’s just so positive about the program, and you can kind of feel the culture he has around it,” Rowander said. “I think it really is a pull factor.”
Josh has assembled a coaching staff that includes several Southwest alumni and three former Minnesota Gophers players in Donnell Kirkwood, Johnny Johnson and Cedric Thompson. Stephanie, meanwhile, is one of three co-coaches for the cheer squad, though she described her role as more managerial. Junior cheerleader Elaina Sathre-Bennett said the team has worked well together in its one-plus season, adding that Stephanie as a coach helps the team focus at practice.
“It’s good because we need someone to guide us in the right direction,” she said.
Stephanie said she and Josh try to stay autonomous from each other during practices, though team members know that they are married. Both said they often spend time each day working on football-related matters during the season, which leads to hectic schedules for about six months a year. They added that they enjoy the atmosphere the cheer squad helps create at the football games and that coaches for both teams are generally donating their time.
“They love the sport, they love kids, and this is what you see,” Stephanie said.