Detroit Denby’s football program was dealt a big loss with the death of 38-year-old assistant coach Anzly Morrell earlier this month.
Denby head coach Tony Blankenship had a close relationship with Morrell, who played for him at his first head coaching job at Detroit Murray-Wright in 1998 when Morrell was a team captain.
Morrell was an assistant coach under Blankenship for 15 years, working as an offensive and defensive line coach when Detroit Demolition’s women’s team won four national championships, then at stops at Detroit Redford, Detroit Southwestern and at Denby.
Morrell’s funeral was held Thursday.
“He had heart trouble, went in (to hospital) last Wednesday, had chest pains and never got out of the hospital,” Blankenship said. “I talked with him when he went to the hospital and I was thinking he was going to be fine and he said, ‘Hey Coach, I think I’m going to be alright, I’m feeling better.’ Then, the last day I talked to him was actually on a Sunday, and that’s when he went into surgery. We talked and he said he felt pretty good and was going to get some more blood tests. He texted me an hour later, saying he was going in for emergency surgery for a major valve in his heart. That was the last text I got and he never came out of the hospital.
“It’s so tragic. It’s just devastating for a guy 38 years old like that to leave us. He was a great father and a great husband, had two daughters, 10 and 3 years old.
“He meant a lot to me. My first year as a head football coach was his senior year so he was one of my guys, back at Murray-Wright 20 years ago. I wasn’t old enough to be his dad since I’m only eight or nine years older than him, but I felt like I helped raise him in a lot of ways. He was a wonderful human being. He was a big dude, 6-foot-4 and 300-some pounds, just had a massive personality, a massive voice, loud and very loving. He was one of the most loving guys you’ll ever want to be around.”
Blankenship treasures his time with Morrell. He said Denby’s football team will dedicate the rest of his season to his memory.
“He was a young coach when he helped me with the Demolition,” Blankenship said of Morrell, who was then in his early 20s at the time. “Then, we went to Redford and built that up before we went to Southwestern and won a city championship in 2008. I’ve been at Denby for five years and he was with me that first year when we were 7-2, then he got a job at Ford (Motor Co.) and started working at Ford and he came back this year.
“Even when he was at Ford, he would still come back to games, the city championship game a couple of years ago. He always found a way to help us out, make himself available to me for big games. He was my right-hand man.”
Denby was 6-3 last season, losing to Detroit Central in the PSL B Division championship game at Ford Field. Denby is 5-2 heading into the PSL B Division semifinal game against unbeaten Detroit Osborn on noon Saturday at Detroit Northwestern.