Saturday, January 20, 2018

Longtime assistant football coach gets chance at top job at Northeast High

Jeremy Frioud is in his element.

Standing near the 30-yard line after the first day of spring contact drills, Northeast High School's new head football coach addresses his team of about 40 players.

"Those who give the effort, who show me they want to play, they will play," Frioud shouts. "Those who don't show the effort will be standing next to me on Friday nights. You will be in the 'tri-50' club. If we're up by 50, you'll get in. If we're down by 50, you'll get in. But you'll only get in as long as there's 50 seconds left in the game."

And so begins the Frioud era.

A 12-year assistant at Largo, Frioud, 34, had tried for years to become a head coach.

He applied at Gibbs three times and interviewed twice. He also had interviews at Lakewood and Seminole. He applied for openings at Boca Ciega, Palm Harbor University, Robinson and Tarpon Springs. In fact, he applied at the latter three times, never getting an interview at his alma mater.

"I pretty much applied for every job that came open,'' Frioud said.

Frioud is not your typical coach. His long brown hair and beard, along with Bermuda shorts and Chuck Taylors, make him look like he should be on Madeira Beach instead of a football field. Then there are the tattoos that stretch from shoulder to wrist on each arm.

Throw in the fact that his only speed is full throttle, and it's easy to see why principals may view him as a crazed, beach-bum biker dude they don't want anywhere near their football program.

"I heard that one principal even said that he doesn't want that tattooed freak being the face of our program,'' Frioud said. "That's all motivation.''

A light comes on

Frioud discovered football between his sophomore and junior years of high school.

"He really wasn't into the team sport stuff,'' said Daniel Frioud, Jeremy's dad and a longtime landscaper in Tarpon Springs. "Then it was like a light switch went on. He would work with me out in that sun for 10 hours a day, then head right to the weight room. He had such determination.''

While at Tarpon Springs, Frioud attended a summer football camp at USF. One of the coaches was then-Clearwater assistant Rick Rodriguez, who nicknamed Frioud "Van Halen'' because of his long hair. That fall, Tarpon Springs played Clearwater, and Frioud had a big game. Rodriguez never forgot him.

"He made a really good block one time and got up and started playing the (air) guitar,'' Rodriguez said. "He was an intense player.''

Frioud played college football at Western Kentucky, then returned to the area and immediately hooked up with Rodriguez's staff at Largo. He was also the head wrestling coach, a duty he will not have at Northeast.

Rodriguez, who recently stepped down at Largo, has been Frioud's biggest coaching influence.

"Rick Rodriguez taught me how to be a coach,'' Frioud said. "He was the hardest on me of all the assistant coaches, but I love him for it.''

Despite being an assistant at a winning program like Largo, Frioud was getting tired of not having his own team. Prior to last season he was not renewed as a physical education teacher at Largo. He worked at Calvin Hunsinger A. School in Clearwater while remaining an assistant at Largo, but was unsure he'd be able to work at two schools a second year.

"I was pretty much about ready to give up on all of this,'' he said. "I was going to get my master's degree in special ed and maybe open up a special ed swimming academy. But I got an email that I should apply (at Northeast) so I did. It's changed my life.''

Starting from scratch

Frioud was hired to replace Mike Jalazo on Dec. 14. The Vikings were 1-9 last fall and several key players transferred out just before the season started.

"He's going to make a difference at Northeast,'' Rodriguez said. "He's got a big heart and really works well with the kids. He's going to bring some intensity and physicality to that program. He'll turn it around, you watch."

Frioud has thrown himself into the job. He took several assistant coaches with him from Largo, established offseason workouts, raised money for new uniforms and scoured the halls for anyone who might be interested in playing football.

All out is the only way he knows.

"I have these kids' futures in my hands,'' Frioud said. "It's not going to work if I just do it for six months. If I complain about how many hours it's going to take I should have never applied.''

After a few early spring practices, Frioud admitted it will take some work to get the Vikings back to being competitive. He has already explained to his team that anyone unwilling to work hard should turn in his uniform.

And any player with a thin skin should probably do the same.

One group of players wears red jerseys during practices. Those are the players who didn't make good enough grades to participate in the spring game, and they get no sympathy from Frioud.

"Off the legs! I told you off the legs, red shirts!'' Frioud yelled during one tackling drill. "That's why you're ineligible. Go read a book, boys.''

Frioud explained his rationale: "I give the red shirts no love. That's what the real world is going to do to them. They are not going to say 'Oh, you played football. I'll give you a job.' Doesn't work that way.''

It is Frioud's goal to build a dynasty at Northeast and not just be good in Pinellas County.

"Winning in Pinellas County is not what's expected," he said. "What is going to be expected is going over the bridge and winning there (Hillsborough). We want people to fear us. Right now, we leave the county and nobody is scared. We want people to be scared.''

And in the meantime, he has no plans to cover his tattoos or shave his beard and wild hair.

"Not for three grand a year,'' Frioud said. "My thing is, the key to coaching is you have to have passion and you have to be who you are."

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