Jerry Gayden says he has the best of both worlds at Lake Highlands High School.

He’s a teacher and a coach.

Gayden replaced Mike Zoffuto, who resigned last spring, as head football coach and athletic director at the high school.

“I enjoy coaching and teaching and helping young people,” Gayden says. “I’ve always believed those people who are mentally sharp, if you check, they also participate in physical activities.”

Gayden came to the Lake Highlands area in 1972 as the coach of Lake Highlands Junior High’s freshman football team, his first job after graduating from McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.

In 1980, he moved to the high school, where he coached junior varsity football. He also coached girl’s track in 1981 and 1982.

Since 1981, he has been with the varsity football team. He has been assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

In the classroom, he puts his bachelor’s degree in political science to work, teaching advanced placement government and law.

“Academics has got to be number one,” he says. “It’s the priority, but athletics supplements that and gives you something physically that you need in life.”

An athlete all his life, Gayden played high school and college football, and as a child participated in basketball, baseball and track.

“I was an average athlete,” he says. “I played and worked hard and had a good time. It taught me good work habits and to persevere.”

As athletic director, Gayden is responsible for coordinating 17 boys and girls teams at the high school.

“I enjoy all sports,” Gayden says. “Athletics teaches you team work, self-discipline, overcoming adversity, how to meet challenges and how to respond to them in a positive way.

“It is something students can enjoy and succeed at and let out some of their energy.”

As varsity football coach, he says he will focus on basic skills and try to take the team, which has made the playoffs the past six years, to an even higher level.

“I’m a fanatic about details and making sure you teach the fundamentals, so you can build the foundation for everything to come,” he says.

Gayden is preparing to move from Mesquite to Merriman Park with his wife Betty, who is an office manager at Baylor Hospital. Once settled in our neighborhood, he plans to become involved with the Lake Highlands Exchange Club and a local church, he says.

Both his children, Chris and Pam, were athletes as children. Pam, 25, is beginning her teaching career this year in Mesquite, and Chris, 26, is a medical student at the University of North Texas’ Health Science Center in Fort Worth.

Gayden says he hopes his example influenced his daughter to become a teacher.

“Seeing young people grow and mature and develop gives you the greatest satisfaction you can have,” he says.