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Johnson High football coach talks about growing up the son of a famous bass guitarist
William Harrell said he got his work ethic from his father William 'Bootsy' Collins
Johnson High football coach William Harrell, right, poses with his father William 'Bootsy' Collins. Photo courtesy William Harrell

William Harrell will never forget the first meeting with his famous father. 

Johnson High’s football coach was just 6 when his father visited him in Atlanta and took him on a shopping excursion to Toys ‘R Us. 

A child of the 1980’s, Harrell knew exactly what he wanted at the time since he was all about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 

Since his father had adequate financial resources, Harrell was able to pick out any toys he wanted. 

Then, the two went and shared a meal at Pizza Hut. 

Ever since then, Harrell has viewed his soulful and considerate father as an important part of his life, even though they’ve never lived under the same roof or even in the same state. 

“We’ve always stayed in touch,” Harrell said. “My dad is big about writing letters.”

When the third-year coach of the Knights was a kid, he couldn’t yet grasp that his father, William Collins, was a big deal in the music industry — and is still relevant at age 70 in 2022.

Harrell’s father, who fans know as ‘Bootsy’ Collins, is one of the most respected bass guitarists in music history. He got his big break in 1968, as a teenager out of Cincinnati, playing for James Brown on hit singles ‘Super Bad’ and ‘Get Up, Sex Machine.’ 

Bootsy’s career has been instrumental to multiple generations, serving as an influence to contemporary stars, none any bigger than his many collaborations with hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg. 

Bootsy Collins reached the peak of his fame with the groups Parliament-Funkadelic and lead singer George Clinton, which produced many hits that rose the charts in the 1970s, including ‘Flash Light’ and ‘One Nation Under a Groove.’ 

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

There’s ample differences between these two men who are bonded by blood. 

Harrell doesn’t play the guitar. 

And Collins, who could not be reached for comment, has never coached football, but he is a huge fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Harrell said. 

But the two know the value of hard work and paving your own way in life. 

“I got my work ethic from my father,” Harrell said. “Everything he’s got in life, he earned through hard work and sacrifice. That’s something to be proud of.”

Once Harrell reached his teenage years, he became more mindful of listening to his father’s music. 

After that first impactful meeting between father and son, they wouldn’t meet again until Harrell was 17. 

Harrell was sent a Greyhound bus ticket for the trip to Ohio — since his father doesn’t like to fly — and was able to then meet his older brother, Bill, and other family members during a stay around Christmas. 

“That was a good experience for me,” Harrell said. “I was able to build those relationships.”

Once Harrell decided football was his calling in life, his father was a constant reinforcement of encouragement. 

Harrell said he appreciates his father never being the type of parent who was constantly sending financial support, which could have taken away his own drive to succeed. 

That self-reliance has given Harrell a more realistic outlook on life.

However, those same rules for being pampered don’t apply for Harrell’s two sons: Aaron, 12, and Evan, 8. 

“My father spoils them (his grandsons) and gets them everything they want and more,” Harrell said with a laugh. 

Once football season starts, Harrell will pick up the phone when his father calls, if time permits. 

Johnson’s coach said one of the best life lessons his father has imparted on him is having a good work and personal-life balance. 

If it’s been a rough day at work, football practice or a game that didn’t go well, Harrell can always count on his father to put things in perspective. 

One of those messages is to enjoy life before time’s up. 

“Outside of the spotlight, with me, my father is always joking around,” Harrell said. “He’s good about checking in on me to see how I’m doing. He’s genuinely a great guy.”

Since Collins isn’t going to fly, his trips down to Georgia are not regular. 

However, Harrell said his father made a surprise visit when he was coaching at Hephzibah, just outside Augusta, which is where he posted back-to-back winning seasons in 2018 and 2019.

After going winless in 2021, Johnson opens the season with a trip to Banks County on Aug. 19 in Homer. 

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