Willie Frank Zapalac Dec. 11, 1920 - May 18, 2010
Willie Zapalac, born to V.R. Zapalac and Mary Louise Sodolak in Sealy, Texas, died Tuesday morning, May 18. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister Clara Zapalac Sledge. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Lampe Zapalac; sister Lilly Zapalac Patton of Waco, TX; and brother, Frank Willie Zapalac of Bellville, TX. The family he left behind and loved includes his children, Jill Zapalac, Bill Zapalac and wife Michelle, Jeff Zapalac and wife Shannon, all of Austin; grandchildren, Dr. Jake Zapalac and wife Lisa of Austin, Brittanie Zapalac Horn and husband, Dr. Louis Horn of Savannah, Georgia, Will and wife Stacey Zapalac of Houston, Shad and wife Angela Zapalac of Austin; and the 10 great-grandchildren that brought him so much joy. Willie grew up on a dairy farm in Bellville, TX, rising each morning at 5:00 a.m. to take care of chores before school. His mother did let him sleep in until 6:00 on days of a football game. Willie was a five sports letterman at Bellville High School, lettering all four years in football. His football honors included all-state selection, junior and senior years, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Best Punter in the state his senior year. He played in the High School All Star Game and the Oil Bowl. In 1988, he was enshrined into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame as the best player in the state for the decade of the 1930s. Willie's 1938 Bellville team was the best in the state and best in Bellville history. The record-setting defense and running of "Wild" Willie Zapalac led Bellville to an 11-0 record. Ten of the wins were shutouts, the defense allowing only 13 points and 1127 yards for the entire season, all of which are still Bellville records. Offensively, they averaged over 40 points and 317 yards rushing per game, also Bellville records. Willie rushed for 2189 yards on 238 carries, averaging 9.2 yds per carry. Against Caldwell he rushed for 323 yds, which still stands as Bellville's only 300 yd rushing performance. He also scored 245 points or 22 points per game. Although there was not a state wide championship in those years, Bellville was the best team in the state, winning their final game, the Regional Championship 47-0. After being heavily recruited, Willie enrolled at Texas A&M in the fall of 1939, playing on two Cotton Bowl teams. He was elected best blocker for three years and captain of his senior team. He was as proud of also being elected as student representative to the Athletics Council that year. While at A&M, Willie had another unique football accomplishment by playing in two College All Star and East-West Shrine games. He was elected into the A&M Football Hall of Fame in 1991. During World War II, he served in the Air Force, completing 32 bombing missions as a navigator in the Seventh Air Force in the Pacific. He was appointed Squadron Bombardier for the 494 Bomb Squadron, retiring from service as the rank of Captain. In 1947, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Injuries limited his playing career and that is when he entered the coaching profession. After stops at McAllen High School, Hillsboro High School, Tarlton Jr. College, and Arlington State Jr. College, he began his 23 years of college coaching at Texas A&M. Four of those years were with Bear Bryant and his SWC championship team that resulted from the hard work of the Junction Boys. After two years at Texas Tech and one year at Oklahoma State, Willie joined Darrel Royal's staff at the University of Texas in 1964. During his 12 years in Austin, the Horns played in 11 bowl games, won 7 SWC championships, and 2 National Championships. Riding the success of the wishbone offense, Willie coached the offensive line that set NCAA rushing records, produced several All-Americans, and had a 30 game win streak, 1968 to 1970, which still stands as UT's longest win streak. At age 55, Willie started a new career: defensive line coach in the NFL. He worked for Don Coryelle of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chuck Knox of the Buffalo Bills, and finished his 10 year NFL career with Bum Phillips and the New Orleans Saints. Willie retired to Austin to enjoy life with Dorothy, his wife of 63 years. He was extremely proud of his family and gave most credit to Dorothy. He loved his kids, daughters-in-law, grandkids, and especially his 10 great-grandchildren over the last 14 years. He looked forward to gatherings of the people he loved. Three weeks before he passed, during a visit by some of his former players, he waved his hand around the room and said, "We need to get all these people together". The Zapalac Family wishes to extend its gratitude to the nurses and care-givers, especially Sally, at Heartland Healthcare Center. We also wish to thank Dr. Robert Cain. These people showed a continuous and genuine caring for our father, grandfather, and great grandfather. A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 22, 2010 at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, 4600 E. Ben White, with Monsignor Fred Bomar officiating. Interment will be held at Austin Memorial Park. Donations can be made to www.championshipheartsfoundation.org . Obituary and guestbook available online at wcfish.com
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Published by Austin American-Statesman on May 20, 2010.