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New Johnson High football coach found his calling through Georgia Southern course
William Harrell signed up for elective to strengthen video game skills. Quickly, he discovered a passion for teaching the game to kids
Hephzibah coach William Harrell calls plays during a 2019 game. On April 3, Harrell was named the new coach at Johnson.

William Harrell still laughs about how he ended up in the coaching profession. It was never the plan.

A young student at Georgia Southern in 2003, he signed up for an elective course called Coaching Football, in hopes of gaining an edge in playing Madden video games.

He was completely thrown for a loop when the teacher broke the news that students would actually be out in the community working with kids, coaching the game. 

“I showed up in the class and everyone else already knew the deal,” Harrell said with a chuckle. “I thought all I would have to do is show up to the class for lectures.”

Despite major reservations about his decision, Harrell went along with the program and took up a role working with 11-and 12-year olds in the Bulloch County Recreation Department. Even though he went to Georgia Southern planning to major in industrial management, those experiences on the field with the young players made it clear that coaching was now the calling for his life. 

On Friday, the 35-year-old Harrell, who is from Atlanta, was named the new coach at Johnson. 

From 2015-2019, Harrell turned around the program at Class 2A Hephzibah, a southern suburb of Augusta, in his first head coaching position, going to the postseason each of the past two seasons, despite a winless mark in 2016.

He hopes his experience will help expand the Knights football program, which continues to be one that is knocking on the door of making it into the postseason. Johnson went 4-6 in back-to-back seasons, following winless campaigns in 2016 and 2017.

Harrell was drawn to seek the job at Johnson to be closer to family in Atlanta. However, he wasn’t going to leave the job he already had near Augusta for the first position that became available within a reasonable distance of his hometown.

“I’m extremely excited about coming to Hall County to coach at Johnson,” said Harrell. “The program at Johnson already has a good culture and structure in place.”

Harrell plans to relocate to the area by the end of the month to prepare for the coming school year and football season. Due to current conditions, Harrell still doesn’t know when he’ll get to meet with his returning players and those interested in giving football a shot.

Johnson’s new football coach plans on connecting with coaches of other Knights athletic programs to try and generate more momentum for the program.

Prior to becoming a head coach at Hephzibah, Harrell was on the staff at Butler (2008), then an assistant at Hephzibah (2009-13), followed by one season at Macon County (2014).

Harrell likely wouldn’t have given coaching a shot, even as a volunteer, had it not been for his elective on football coaching instructor at Georgia Southern, Drew Zwald, who was able to calm the apprehension of the young student.

“When I went and talked with him, he said ‘don’t worry,’” Harrell said.

Once he got his first taste of coaching, and learned from some astute men in the profession, Harrell knew that’s also what he wanted to do with his life.

After two years working with the 11-and-12 year olds in Statesboro, Harrell moved over for his final couple years as a student to work with the middle school program in nearby Portal.

While at Portal, he got to see firsthand how coach Pat Collins ran Portal’s varsity program in 20004 and 2005.

“(Collins) is an offensive genius,” Harrell said.

Following graduation, Harrell began to climb the ranks, like any young coach would do. He worked as a middle school coach for a season, before moving to the high school level. 

Now, Harrell is looking to take all the lessons he’s learned to help take Johnson to the next level. 

“I’m looking forward to playing against some great programs,” Harrell said. “I know there’s excellent football in Hall County.”

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