Terry Foster: Herrington prepares Harrison for their 49th and final season (Story)

Written by
Terry Foster
Photo Credit
Jeff Corrion

John Herrington doesn’t like to think about the end. He doesn’t want to dwell on this being the final season of Farmington Hills Harrison football, a program he started in 1970.

The goals are the same as they are every year -- win a conference title and then a state championship. The work outs are the same. The complaints from fatigued players are the same. And after a grueling three hour work out in the Michigan heat Herrington breaks his team down with a couple jokes and talks about STP.

The same as he did last season and the season before that.

Every player that has walked through this program during Herrington’s 49 year run has STP. It stands for Strength, Toughness and Pride. If you don’t have it you stand on the sidelines on a Friday night with helmet in hand. Or you don’t even make it to the sideline and watch games from the stands with the rest of Hawks nation.

Herrington tells the same stories to the 2018 Harrison team as he told the 2015 Harrison team. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington D.C. former Harrison player Marcus Mencotti found himself in the middle of the war in Afghanistan.

He was caught in an ambush, shot, and momentarily separated from his troop. Blood poured from his body from the piercing bullet wound. He lay in the dirt and heat thinking back to those hot two a day practices on the field now named after Herrington.


“If I can get through that then I can get through this,” he thought to himself.

After stretches, individual drills and 11 on 11 scrimmages Herrington has one more treat for players. He huddles them up and makes them run the perimeter of the field, side line to side line and end zone to end zone. If it takes the last guy more than 55 seconds to make the journey, the entire team must repeat the run until they all break 55 seconds. This way everybody is held accountable, from the fastest to the slowest player.

Then come the 20-yard gassers which everybody must complete in four seconds or less 10 times. And finally eight 20-yard sprints carrying a teammate on your back. This is where STP evolves. This is what carried Harrison and Herrington to a state record 13 state titles and a number of fourth quarter dominations against teams without STP.

It is a major reason why Herrington has a field named after him after compiling a state record 435 victories, including a 10-4 record last season, and an 18th state finals appearance where the Hawks lost the Division 3 Finals to Muskegon last season.

“Its business as usual around here,” Herrington said. “I try not to say this is the final stop. It would be driving me crazy. We don’t stress it and we don’t talk about it.”

Of course he has talent. Rod Heard, who calls himself slash because he can play running back, defensive back and quarterback is committed to Northwestern as a corner. Tackle Maverick Hansen is headed to Central Michigan and under sized jet burner Ben Williams returned the opening kickoff 91 yards in the D-3 Finals against Muskegon last year.

Herrington, 77, became angry when administrators picked Harrison to close, instead of North Farmington or Farmington High Schools because of declining enrollment. He believed that the school’s diversity and football tradition were enough to keep it open.

However, the city said it was the best facility to move its recreation facilities into. Farmington Hills plans to spend $20 million to convert the 254,000 square foot high school into a recreation center. The recreation department will use Herrington Field, the tennis courts, gymnasium, baseball and softball fields for sports for people of all ages. The theater will also be used to take pressure off outdated and cramped Costick Center about a mile away.

Herrington Field will remain a part of the community, which the old football coach is proud of. He said this might have been his final season even if the school didn’t close. Assistant coach Jon Hetshstein runs most of the practice while Herrington mostly sits in a golf cart and works with individuals.

“I might have gone a few more (years),” Herrington said. “What I would have liked to have done is turn it over to Jon. It is time for younger guys to take this over.”

This is probably the end of the line for Herrington but he hinted that he would not mind being an assistant coach or act as a football consultant.

“I’d make him my assistant coach and then nominate him for assistant coach of the year,” Hetshstein said.

Wayne State University reached out about a consulting job as did Central Michigan University where Herrington graduated. Ypsilanti Lincoln coach Chris Westfall, who is also the athletic director, offered to fire himself and hand the job to Herrington. The old coach appreciated the gesture but said no thanks.

“I’d like something where I get paid and don’t have to work,” he joked.

After practice coaches gather inside the coach’s room and make plans for one more round of STP for the staff. This STP more refreshing as it features Stroh’s, Tudors and Pabst at Southfield watering hole Mr. Joe’s.