Written by Matt Wixon
Sam Harrell returns to football coaching post as OC at Fort Worth Christian
An Internet video of a man skipping rope, zipping up a flight of stairs and jumping on a platform has little chance of going viral. But when the 58-year-old doing the exercises is former Ennis football coach Sam Harrell, the video has a blockbuster quality.
It was four years ago this month that Harrell, the architect of Ennis’ transformation from woebegone to powerhouse, gave up his coaching duties. His health was in decline as multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system, affected his coordination and sapped his strength and energy level. He used a golf cart to get around at practices, and when the MS was at its worst, he needed a walker to get around at home.
Now Harrell is bounding up and down stairs and jumping, from a stand-still position and with relative ease, onto a 20-inch platform.
“It’s just amazing, it really is,” Harrell said. “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I’m doing things I never dreamed of doing again.”
Including coaching. Harrell began work this spring as the offensive coordinator at Fort Worth Christian, which is moving from a predominantly wing-T offense to the spread. Harrell was one of the early adopters, and innovators, of the spread offense at Ennis, where he coached from 1994 through 2009.
“If we’re going to put in the spread, there’s not a better person to lead us,” said Fort Worth Christian coach Scott Smiley. “Most importantly, we’re putting a great man in front of our kids.”
A great man, as well as a man who appears to be in great health. So how did Harrell, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005, make such a comeback?
The coach, who led Ennis to 13 consecutive playoff appearances as well as 4A titles in 2000, 2001 and 2004, said his faith in God helped. But so did the four treatments he received at the Stem Cell Institute in Panama.
The treatments introduce stem cells, which can be extracted from many areas of the body, into damaged tissue. With financial help from fundraisers set up by Ennis residents and coaches around the state, Harrell got treatments in June 2010 and March 2011. He got a third treatment in 2012 and a fourth late last summer. Harrell had someone accompany him on the first three trips, but on the last he felt well enough to go alone.
“I got what I call a little booster,” said Harrell, whose three sons — Zac, Graham and Clark — played for him at Ennis. Graham is Texas Tech’s all-time passing leader and recently joined the staff at Washington State, reuniting with former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.
Harrell, who still lives in Ennis, said he’ll probably get more stem cell treatments but doesn’t know when. It’s about maintaining his health now, he said, and he’ll monitor how he’s feeling and then decide.
Right now, Harrell is feeling great. He returned to coaching in 2012 as the quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Brownwood, but head coach Bob Shipley left after that season and Harrell awaited the next opportunity. It’s no surprise that another school snapped up Harrell, who had a 153-51 record at Ennis and last year was inducted, along with Graham, into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back into coaching,” Harrell said. “Getting to do what you love to do kind of puts a skip in your step.”