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‘The Flea’ returns to Howard gridiron

(Published March 25, 2002)


Staff Writer

In 1993, Gary "Flea" Harrell was the big man on campus.

The 170-pound wide receiver was leading the Howard Bison to an 11-0 season and a Black College National Championship.

This spring, the Flea returns to Howard as a first-year assistant coach and is looking to instill a winning attitude in a team that has gone 5-17 over the past two seasons.

"Guys had a problem with commitment last year – that’s going to change," Harrell said. "I have experienced the rough times at Howard and I have experienced the good times. It’s time to get back to the good times."

Howard will take the field next season under a new coaching staff. Rayford T. Petty replaced Steve Wilson as head coach in January and pegged Harrell as wide receiver coach shortly thereafter. Harrell was managing a home improvement store when Petty called and offered the job.

"He knew I wanted to get into coaching and that’s what kind of guy he is. He gave me a chance," Harrell said.

Petty and Harrell represent Howard’s desire to return to its former prominence.

"Everyone respects Coach Petty," said Cortez Avery, a former Howard lineman. "Coach Petty was tough and competitive and so was Flea. That’s going to help the team a lot. If they bring back (coach) Ron Springs, then they may go undefeated again." Springs was also well liked by players when he coached Howard’s defensive backs during Howard’s heyday of the ’90s.

The competition in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference has intensified since Howard’s glory days. The addition of Hampton University and Norfolk State made the conference more physical. Petty, who was Howard’s defensive coordinator from 1992-1999, left to take the same position at Norfolk State. Petty’s defensive scheme had ranked at the top of the MEAC twice while he coached on the Hill, and he left Norfolk with a ferocious defense that finished second in the conference in 2001.

Another factor in Howard’s fall from grace has been disappointing recruitment. On Wilson’s way out, he claimed the school never gave him a fighting chance, blaming the weight room and athletic facilities for not being competitive when compared to other schools in the MEAC.

"When you look at (Florida A&M University) and Morgan State, those guys are ahead of the game now. But we are working on some things now to improve our weight room and improve recruiting," Harrell said. "But we have the talent to win here on campus and the guys are already believing in what we are teaching them."

Harrell said he plans to help the Bison in recruiting in the south Florida area. Harrell was a star at Miami’s Northwestern High School and has maintained contacts with the coaches in one of the country’s hottest beds for football talent.

"I played for or against the coaches in high school or college. They know that I am a reputable guy that will take care of their boys. Howard is a good place to be," Harrell said.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator