Tri-County has a ‘football boy’ and a ‘W’

Shawn Echelberry, Tri-County Coach

Shawn Echelberry loves this time of year.

Echelberry is a football guy. A life of soccer, actually.

So this is your time of year.

“Soccer has been a huge part of my life,” the 52-year-old said Sunday as he sat on his tractor at his “hobby farm” 10 miles south of Sigourney.

You see, these days Echelberry is more than just a football guy. He is a full-time banker at County Bank in Sigourney, a “part-time” farmer, a husband, and a father of three.

But football remains his essence.

He is the first-year coach at Tri-County High School in Thornburg and runs an 8-player program that didn’t exist last year. His team opened the season on Friday with a 60-14 victory over Twin Cedars.

“It was fantastic,” he said of the win. The Trojans’ previous game was a 68-6 loss to BGM, on October 16, 2020. The previous victory was on September 18 of that year, 42-28 over Twin Cedars.

“I’m happy for the children.”

Echelberry made it clear. This type of football is all about the players these days. It’s about forming a team, working to improve every week, every day. It’s about the experience and having fun.

Wins matter, of course, but getting better is paramount in Tri-County’s renaissance.

But Echelberry’s football journey is quite interesting, if not fascinating. It’s a football story, of course.

Echelberry played high school football in Peking under legendary coach Tom Stone, who won 332 games and three state titles in 42 years. He played at Coe College for DJ LeRoy, in a defense that was “overshadowed a little bit … we had Carey Bender” on offense.

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He played professionally in Germany for one season, then bounced around the semi-pro circuit for 16 years, including a stop in Cedar Rapids with the Stars.

“When my twins were born, my wife said ‘you’re done,’” he said.

He also trained some during that time, volunteering on Stone’s staff in Pekin, and later becoming a full assistant.

“I wanted to be a head coach to see if I’m as smart as I think I am,” he said with a laugh.

In 2001, he got his chance. He was named head coach at Fox Valley High School in Milton, just north of the Missouri border. That school hadn’t had football since 1965, a gap of 35 years.

Echelberry coached one season, went 1-7 and moved on. The school played one more season, then closed the next year.

He spent last season on the Highland Community staff, and when that head coaching job opened up, he applied. He didn’t get that job, but he soon saw that Tri-County was looking to restart their program.

“This could have been meant to be,” he said. After years of driving hours to play or train other programs, she found one “just 20 miles down the road.”

He was not worried that the school would stop his program in 2021.

“I didn’t necessarily see it as a challenge,” he said. “It wasn’t like it was something forgotten.”

In fact, he saw it as a bonus. There was no movie about last year’s team to watch and he “hadn’t been a head coach for 20 years.”

Tri-County, and how Echelberry trained him, was a mystery.

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“I like something like that,” he said.

He doesn’t know how the season will end and, honestly, he doesn’t care too much about wins and losses. He wants to win, “as long as we get better… hopefully wins will take care of themselves,” but this is more than the final score.

“We have some great kids,” he said. “We have talent everywhere.

“But I’ll be happy if the kids have fun…none of this is about me. I am just a container. It’s the kids and the community and the support is all that matters.”

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