Home is where the heart has taken former Eastern Washington safety Zach Bruce.
His wife’s career determined a foreign destination.
Before the University High graduate exhausted his college eligibility in 2016, Bruce already had yielded his future plans to the professional basketball aspirations of then-girlfriend Delaney Hodgins, EWU’s all-time leading scorer.
After the former Eagles married in the summer of 2018 – their wedding announcement featured a picture of the couple in their respective EWU jerseys – they made the move to Finland, where Delaney Bruce averaged nearly 20 points per game in two seasons in the country’s top-tier league, Korisliiga.
“I didn’t want to get in the way of her goals,” said Bruce, who is the new safeties coach at EWU. “And it was a great way for her and I to travel and see the world. We talked about doing that for two to three years and see what’s next.”
There won’t be a third year.
Delaney’s recent retirement was expedited by coronavirus-induced shutdowns and a desire to now follow her husband in his career.
The 24-year-old sharpshooter was on the cusp of the Korisliiga playoffs when her season was canceled abruptly last month amid the worldwide pandemic, prompting her to make an immediate return to the Pacific Northwest.
Zach, who left Finland earlier this year to report to his new job in Cheney, worried his wife would be stuck in Europe with the ensuing border closures and scrambled to help get her back the United States.
European airports were beginning to shut down travel, resulting in the cancellations of connecting flights from Helsinki. Delaney was temporarily stuck and admittedly stressed but returned home healthy.
“I wish it didn’t end the way it did, but it was overall a great experience,” said Delaney, who scored 2,120 points at EWU. “We both wanted to travel before we really settled down, and basketball let us do that.”
Now they’re both living in their “home away from home” – Cheney – where the two met in the fall of 2014.
It’s a strange feeling, they said, and not just because of the quarantine that’s kept Zach away from players, recruits and a spring football season.
After enjoying their collegiate glories on campus as student-athletes, they’ve returned as working adults. Zach is back on Roos Field coaching some of his former teammates, and Delaney hopes to put her health information technology degree to use when the economy opens back up.
The EWU freshmen who redshirted in 2016 – a season in which Zach totaled 115 tackles and three interceptions – will be fifth-year seniors this fall.
Jeff Schmedding, a fellow U-Hi graduate who is now the defensive coordinator at Boise State, was Zach’s safeties coach at EWU and recruited the former Titan.
“He’s been my biggest help in terms of understanding the game,” Zach said of Schmedding. “A lot of the reasons I believe I will be a great coach is because of looking up to him.”
Another U-Hi grad, Heath Pulver, is EWU’s special teams and tight ends coach.
Zach said he didn’t expect to get a full-time college coaching gig so early in his career. His prior experiences were assisting at Mead High School, helping a football team in Finland and working with athletes at Spokane’s Pro Vision Academy.
Taking the job also meant leaving Delaney alone in the small, one-bedroom apartment they shared in Finland until the end of her season.
But she insisted that Zach get a jump on things.
“This was a great opportunity, and I didn’t want him to miss out on it,” she said.
Zach also found time to publish a book titled “Dumb Jocks,” which explains the complexities of defensive football, coverages and who he believes are some of the best safeties to play the game.
The Spokane Valley native’s passion impressed EWU head coach Aaron Best.
“He brings energy, knowledge and understanding of our scheme to the safety position as a member of our coaching staff,” Best said. “He also has great personal connectivity to our current and future student-athletes.”
Best also recently brought on Zach’s former teammate, Ketner Kupp, as a defensive analyst. He was briefly on the Los Angeles Rams last year alongside his standout receiver brother, Cooper Kupp.
Delaney, who hopes to leverage her previous working experience at Kootenai Health, may have given up elite-level basketball, but she still wants to be involved – even with the EWU women’s program if time allows.
EWU basketball runs deep in her family, including her older sister and former college teammate Hayley Hodgins, who is No. 3 on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Youngest sister Braydey Hodgins, who was a senior at Boise State last season, coincidentally hit the winning shot against EWU in December, a 63-61 decision in Cheney.
Their mother, Karen Murray (Hodgins), starred at Washington in the 1980s and also played professionally.
“EWU is very important to Delaney and I,” Zach said. “There’s the term EKG (Eastern Kinda Guy) the football team uses, but with us it’s EKF – Eastern Kinda Family.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.