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Amazing ride

Sunday, November 14, 2021
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The timing of Ennis football coach Jack Alvarez stepping down to accept an offer elsewhere opened the door for the trumpeted return of Sam Harrell. Aspirations of additional state championship bling came naturally.

After 16 seasons on the sideline, the alltime winningest coach in Ennis history, had been steadily making progress after multiple sclerosis had prompted him to resign after the 2009 season.

Support for the beloved coach was expressed in funds raised by the community for two trips to Panama for stem cell therapies at roughly $40,000 each. They did not result in the desired success. Like the heart of Ennis, which does not easily reach its end, Harrell’s faith prodded for a third try at human cells. He once again made his way for another procedure.

Panama is a country on the isthmus that links Central and South America. Like the thin strip of land that separates the Pacific from the Atlantic oceans, the third attempt connected Sam to his former abilities. Years of determination, rehabilitation therapy and prayers not only enabled him to experience mobility again, but added the thoughts of returning to the gridiron.

After a year in Brownwood, one at Ft. Worth Nolan and then a season as Offensive Coordinator at SAGU in Waxahachie, his complete restoration was ripe again in Ennis.

Alvarez won a state championship with the Lions in 2014. As the second winningest coach in program history, he was bound for Class 6A Copperas Cove. Three years later he took the reins at Cuero. He led the Gobblers to the playoffs after an 0-3 start in his first year (2020), and is currently ranked No. 7 in Class 4A and in the playoffs again. Cuero is 9-1.

Like cream rising to the top, no one is surprised at Alvarez.

Doing likewise is Harrell. Voted into the Texas Hall of Fame at the end of his first stint in Ennis, his return, played to the tune of “Play It Again, Sam,” has seen his teams return to ranking in the state polls, and to making noise in the playoffs.

Ennis went 5-5 in his first season back in 2018. Hardly a threat to the powers that be, the Lions made the playoffs and then made a quick exit.

Two seasons ago the Pride posted a 12-2 overall mark, including three playoff wins. Last fall they spent the entire season ranked No. 1 in the state. After a win in the postseason, they endured a tough 42-28 playoff setback

This year the team began at No. 7 in the poll and has risen without any competition in eight district games. They have been like a rat in the cheese factory with the cat on vacation. Harrell began with only six-of-22 starters back from the powerhouse team of 2020. Only one team in the Pre-Season Top 25, Wichita Falls Rider (with 4), had less. Incidentally, the Raiders posted a 9-1 mark.

Harrell has likely enjoyed this year’s bunch as they have surpassed the expectations some had for them. This weekend they took a perfect 10-0 record into the six-week playoffs. That is significant. The visor-wearing coach has had only one team (2001, 16-0 record) in two decades go without a loss all season, this “little train that could” is a cast of characters. They haven’t lit up the scoreboard quite as much as last year’s Lions did, but they have shown the resilience that surely well-represents the coach.

Fan support (attendance) has been down all season, likely the after-effects of Covid. Should Ennis have defeated Denison on Friday, the team will be on the road for as long as they keep winning. It requires a 6-0 playoff run to win the championship. The Lions won three post-season games in 2019, but came up short by three. May this year end with another title run!

Coach Harrell didn’t exit in good health in 2009 when his team went 5-5. Since his first year back (5-5 in 2018), the team has gone 12- 2, 9-1 and 10-0, combining for a 31-3 mark.

At 65, not only has he not lost it, he will go out on his own terms this time. That’s an amazing feat in one decade. So, be sure to catch him in action, on the road, while you can.

Here’s hoping he Plays It Again.