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It’s one game that needs more subplots like downtown Tampa needs more gridlock. Yet with each day, another Plant-Jesuit story line seems to surface.
The latest is borne of blood ties. The rivalry for Himes Avenue supremacy is evolving into the Harrell Bowl.
A James Harrell will occupy each sideline at Alumni Field when the Panthers and Tigers square off Saturday in their regionally televised season opener. James Jr. will embark on his third season as Jesuit coach. His son, 2008 Plant graduate James Harrell III, will assist the Panthers’ secondary.
Toss in Tigers defensive backs coach Evalio Harrell (James Jr.’s nephew) and Plant assistant Neil Harrell (another nephew), and you’ve got the biggest convergence of football kinfolk this side of the Bowdens.
“It will be a fun game,” said the younger James Harrell, who finished a four-year career at Arkansas-Pine Bluff last fall. “I’m a competitor, dad’s a competitor. I’m sure he doesn’t want to lose; we don’t want to lose over here, I’m telling you. It should be fun, but I expect to win.”
Perhaps no two area teams epitomize the something-borrowed theme like Plant and Jesuit. To this day, Panthers coach Robert Weiner (Jesuit, Class of ’83) will proudly admit much of his philosophies and game-day rituals were “borrowed” from his mentor, ex-Tigers coach Dominick Ciao.
When Weiner took the Plant job in 2004, he “borrowed” several of his former Tigers players and fellow assistants (including James Harrell Jr.), allowing Jesuit to later “borrow” some of them back when more prominent jobs opened up on the Tigers staff.
And when James III showed an interest in joining Plant’s staff, Weiner — for all intents — borrowed him. Which is to say, he asked Harrell’s dad.
“Before I even offered (the younger Harrell) in doing anything, I called James (Jr.) because James would never step on my toes,” Weiner said. “So I certainly didn’t want to breach any etiquette with that and wanted to be respectful.”
James III, who still lives at home, said his decision to embark on his coaching career at Plant has sparked no animosity with the elder Harrell. To the contrary, “Me and my dad came to a decision that it’s better if I go away and coach instead of coaching under him,” he said.
He went exactly 5.45 miles away.
“He’s really done a good job for us and we’re really happy that he’s back and part of our family again as he was before,” Weiner said. “I mean, he’s a Panther through and through.”
Photo: James Harrell III