Two assistant football coaches at Sunlake High are no longer with the program, and first-year head coach BJ Hall has been placed on leave, after a physical altercation involving the two assistants Monday at practice.
The Pasco County school district couldn’t provide names of the assistants, but Sunlake offensive coordinator Connor Ferst told the Tampa Bay Times he was blindsided by another assistant coach during an offense-versus-defense drill that got heated, suffering injuries that required medical attention.
Ferst said he resigned on the spot and intends to press charges against the other assistant, whose name hasn’t been released by authorities.
“I turned my back, and when I turned my back, 10 seconds later, (the other assistant) came over and sucker-punched me and jumped me in the back of the head,” Ferst said.
“He grabbed my hoodie around my head, like, hockey-style, so that I couldn’t see. Then he punched me in the top of the head, punched me in the back of the ear and numerously punched me all in my ribs. When he punched me on top of the head, he split my head open.
“Seventy kids saw it.”
The incident remains under investigation, and no arrests have been made yet, Pasco County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Amanda Hunter said.
“It was in front of students, who were going out for football,” school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.
Ferst said he works for the county as one of its substitute teachers, whom Hegarty said are assigned through a third party. He remains on the list of eligible county substitutes.
The other coach is no longer associated with the school district, Hegarty said.
Hegarty said parents of the players were notified by the school district the following day. Hall remains on leave while the school district looks into how he handled the incident.
“We want to make sure that he handled it appropriately, because he was present at the time,” Hegarty said. “And when two adults have a physical altercation, I guess there’s several different ways that you could handle it, some more appropriate than others.”
Ferst, a former student-assistant at Temple University who also served as offensive coordinator at Webber International University (an NAIA program) in eastern Polk County, said the incident was sparked during an intense two-minute drill between the Sunlake offensive and defensive units Monday.
“At practice, defense and offense, we talk trash, everything, so forth and so what. It’s competition, it’s football,” Ferst said.
“But on Monday evening, the trash talk got out of hand after the offense and defense were going at it. We did the two-minute drill, and the offense scored in the two-minute drill, and (the other assistant) went and elevated his trash talk to saying, ‘Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself,’ in front of a bunch of kids.
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“So I went over to (the assistant), and said, ‘Are you ... kidding me?! We’ve got 14- and 15-year-old kids out here. Act right, grow up.’”
At that point, Ferst said, the other assistant jumped him from behind. Ferst said he was taken to a nearby urgent-care center by his girlfriend. He suffered a laceration atop his head, a contusion behind his left ear, cuts and scrapes on face, back and abdomen, and multiple bruised ribs.
Monday’s incident marked the formal start of spring football practice for Florida high schools, though some requested (and were granted) permission to begin a week earlier.
It also continued a volatile stretch for the Seahawks program, on its third coach since the start of the 2022 season. Allen Suber was dismissed two games into last season and was replaced by interim coach John Gilmore as Sunlake finished 1-9. Hall, who played professionally in the Arena Football League, was hired in December after three seasons as an assistant at Zephyrhills Christian.
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls