The Dallas Morning News’ Kevin Sherrington went to Amarillo to visit with former Lake Highlands football coach Mike Zoffuto, who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s and is living in an assisted care facility. Sherrington’s column appears, fittingly, on the day Lake Highlands plays W.T. White, the last two teams Zoffuto coached.
Zoffuto, Lake Highlands’ coach from 1987-1994, took over a Wildcat program that had won seven games combined the three seasons prior to his arrival. He led LH to a winning record his second season and to the playoffs in his third season. That started a string of 10 straight playoff appearances by the Wildcats, including three trips to the state semifinals under his successor, Jerry Gayden.
Several LH traditions were born during Zoffuto’s tenure, including The Boneyard nickname for Wildcat-Ram Stadium and Lake Highlands’ many uniform combinations. His teams were known for their exciting Wishbone offenses and flashy style. He became known for the "Jerseygate" game against Richardson in 1992 when a speedy Lake Highlands punt returner switched jerseys with a teammate to throw off the defense. Zoffuto said the player’s original jersey was torn.
Zoffuto was also in the broadcast booth for the famous Plano East-John Tyler playoff game in 1994. It was Zoffuto who uttered, "God bless those kids, I’m sick. I want to throw up." after John Tyler returned a kickoff in the final seconds to thwart an improbable comeback by Plano East. Yet it was the other announcers, Eddy Clinton and Denny Garver, who appeared on the Tonight Show and in movies.
Zoffuto was a charismatic, polarizing figure in Lake Highlands. While he tapped into the community’s potential to build a powerhouse football program, he resigned after being accused of misusing funds and wound up suing the RISD. While his own memory is fading, Zoffuto’s influence on Lake Highlands football, and the community that surrounds it, is unforgettable.