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A sad day for the PSL as King’s Harvel is remembered

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit — Longtime Detroit King coach Dale Harvel will be remembered for his commitment to preparation — preparing his assistants to become better coaches, and preparing his players for the real world — when he is laid to rest in what’s expected to be a well-attended funeral Saturday morning.

Harvel collapsed at a 7-on-7 scrimmage last Friday and died at Detroit Receiving Hospital. He was 57, more than half his life spent on the football staff at King.

Visitation is from 4-8 p.m. today at Clora Funeral Home, 5801 E. 7 Mile Road in Detroit, followed by services Saturday at Second Ebenezer Baptist Church, 14601 Dequindre Road, with Family Hour at 10 a.m., with an open service to follow at 11.

“There is some sadness, and considerably so,” said Terel Patrick, King’s assistant head coach and offensive coordinator who had known Harvel since 1986, when Harvel joined the staff as an assistant and Patrick was just a young ball boy. “And a lot of shock.

“He’d go to the end of the earth and back for you.”

Harvel became head coach at King in 2008, a year after the team won a state championship when he was defensive coordinator.

During his eight years as head coach, King would go 65-24, making the playoffs each year but the first — and capping the run off with a magical 14-0 season in 2015, which ended with a 40-yard, Hail Mary touchdown pass for a 40-38 victory over Lowell in the Division 2 championship game.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, with Detroit King Principal Deborah Jenkins, and Bridgett Harvel, attended the fundraiser.

Early in the season, he was named a Lions head coach of the week. After the season, he was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

His long and decorated football career was peaking, and, just so quickly — and unfairly — he’s gone, from an apparent heart attack.

“It’s a tremendous loss for Detroit Public Schools, for the City of Detroit and for all the people over at King High School,” said Thomas Wilcher, head coach at Detroit Cass Tech, which made him a natural rival of Harvel’s, but a friend, as well. “You know, he’s a statue. He was a pillar of the community over there.

“It’s a great loss. It was a sad day, a very sad day.”

Longtime Detroit King football coach Dale Harvel collapsed at a 7-on-7 scrimmage last Friday and died at Detroit Receiving Hospital. He was 57, more than half his life spent on the football staff at King.

Universal respect

Harvel’s death sent shock waves throughout not just the Metro Detroit football community, but across the state, as well, and even the nation.

King has sent scores of players to Division I universities during Harvel’s tenure, many to the in-state schools.

Those coaches reflected this week on what made Harvel so special.

And a common theme was his personality — he was a straight-shooter, which isn’t the most common trait in high-school and college sports.

“Just how real he was. Just how honest and real he was,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said Thursday at Mid-American Conference media day at Ford Field. “You could always get an honest answer.

“Sometimes, the answer wasn’t exactly what you wanted to hear, but it was real. A lot of times in recruiting, you have to fish through all that first. He gave it to you straight. That’s what I really remember.”

Western has one King player on its roster, freshman defensive back Dontre Boyd. Same with Central Michigan, who landed freshman defensive lineman Leon Page.

Central Michigan coach John Bonamego, who just finished his first season, got to interact with Harvel briefly last season.

“He was just a very classy, hard-working, good person,” Bonamego said. “Obviously, he’s someone that’s going to be very missed and the entire football community is saddened by that, because we just lost somebody that made a different in a lot of young lives.

“Ultimately, as coaches and mentors, hopefully that’s why you do it. You want to affect the lives of the people you work with and the life lessons that our games teaches. Certainly, Coach really lived his life in the things he was trying to teach.”

Bridgett Harvel, right, the widow of Detroit King football coach Dale Harvel, receives a hug from a well-wisher during a fundraiser Thursday at the Bronco Bowl in Warren.

Meanwhile, Harvel’s name was on the minds of coaches at Big Ten media days in Chicago this week, too.

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer were among the coaches who paid tribute. The Spartans, particularly, have benefitted from a King pipeline over the years, with players like Tyriq Thompson, Kyonta Stallworth and Donnie Corley, who caught that 40-yard Hail Mary pass to win the state championship last winter.

“That guy was a man of peace,” Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio said. “You could sit down and have a conversation with Coach about anything. That’s what I really loved about Coach.

“Whenever I came into King High School or whenever I saw him, it was just, we could sit down and talk about anything. It was a tragic loss. We’re still reeling from that.

“He was a good man. A really good man.”

Hard work pays off

The joke around King was Harvel hadn’t called a play in three years. That never really bothered Harvel, who saw his job as to teach and develop, and not just the players.

“He really let the coordinators and coaches grow and develop,” Patrick said. “He was a great influence, he was a friend.”

That intense focus on preparation, of course, also carried over to his team, which beat the heck out of most of its opponents in 2015 — but still worked regularly on a two-minute drill.

That two-minute drill would come in handy in the state final, with Lowell leading, 38-34, and King 97 yards from the goal line with just 38 seconds remaining.

With 2 seconds remaining, quarterback Armani Posey chucked it 40 yards to Corley for the winning score, setting off a euphoric celebration at Ford Field. Boyd also had a big catch on that winning drive.

Interestingly, the state final might not have even been Harvel’s best coaching job last season. Rather, he went to bat for his players with DPS officials after King had been told it would be barred from the PSL Division 1 championship game following a brawl the previous week with players from Detroit Cody. Talking about preparation, Harvel had sensed there could be trouble following the game, and so he instructed his players to avoid a handshake line.

“He felt as if our kids followed instructions,” Patrick said. “So we collectively fought, led by him, just to get the kids the opportunity. There are only so many opportunities you get as a young man.”

In the end, Alvin Ward, director of athletics forthe PSL, overturned the decision, and King beat Wilcher’s Cass Tech team, 27-25, in a thriller.

“He was a person,” said Wilcher, “who always tried to keep it real.”

And that went for his players, too, of course.

Harvel had a tremendous sense of humor, though most didn’t see that as much, because he was hard on his players. And that was by design.

There’s that word again, preparation.

“He was really hard on the kids. We have to be hard on the kids,” Patrick said.

“If we’re not hard on them, we don’t prepare them for the real life, and real life will be 10 times harder on our children than we are.”

Scores of friends and family, plus players of today and yesterday, were to gather Thursday night at a bowling fundraiser or Harvel’s family in Warren.

A GoFundMe page also has been created, with about half of the $15,000 goal raised as of 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Harvel is survived by his wife, Bridget, and three children, Bria, Imani and DJ.

Al Willman and Matt Charboneau contributed