TAMPA James Harrell was officially introduced as the new and first African-American head football coach at Jesuit on Friday during a press conference at the school, returning to the program he helped coach for 11 seasons.
"It feels great," said Harrell, sporting a Jesuit baseball cap. "It gives me a chance to be a part of the Jesuit tradition, which is commitment to excellence."
Harrell was a defensive coach and defensive coordinator at Jesuit between 1994 and 2004. He said returning to the Tigers was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
"We won a lot when I was here," he said. "I think we won five or six districts in a row."
Harrell was the head coach at Freedom this past season, leading the Patriots to a program-best 7-3 record and the trip to the Class 5A region playoffs, where the team lost to Countryside in the quarterfinal round. He resigned from his position just hours before the Jesuit press conference.
"I think the (Freedom) kids were upset, but some of the kids understand and they know what this means to me," he said. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime. The program (at Freedom) is in better shape than then when I started."
Harrell took over a program that went 4-6 and 1-9 in its previous two seasons under former coach Marquel Blackwell. Aside from leading the team to the postseason, Harrell, a former NFL linebacker, renovated the school's weight room thanks to a $8,000 grant from the NFL's Youth Football Fund.
Harrell takes over for Joe Ross, who resigned from the position in January. Under Ross, Jesuit was 34-17 in five seasons. The Tigers reached the playoffs for the first time in two years last year and finished with a 9-2 record.
Harrell said his son, Anthony Harrell, a junior linebacker at Freedom, will remain at the New Tampa high school for the time being. Jesuit does not allow students to transfer in after their sophomore year, unless they transfer from another Jesuit school.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Harrell said. "We have to do what's best for Anthony."