Nattiel succeeds Bell at TC
Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
OCALA — The Trinity Catholic football program opted to stay the course in the wake of Kerwin Bell's departure, promoting assistant coach Ricky Nattiel to head coach on Friday.
Nattiel, who was acting head coach while Bell finished his Canadian Football League playing career in 2001, led the Celtics to a 7-1 mark in the school's first year of competition.
Trinity Catholic has since won a state championship in 2005 and reeled off 27 straight victories (2005-06) under Bell, now the head coach at I-AA Jacksonville University.
Nattiel plans to sustain the small private school's success by sticking to the same formula he and Bell implemented over the past six seasons.
"Keeping going what we built," Nattiel said of his focus. "Try to keep it at a high level. Kerwin and I's vision was the same. We went (to Trinity) with that vision of winning a state championship. Obviously we made it to that point. We know what it's like; we know what it takes to get there.
"Our main thing, along with winning a state championship, was giving kids in the area an opportunity to get exposure and play on a good program with good coaches."
Athletics director Gary Belger received 45 applications for the open position, paring it down to four candidates for the interviewing process.
Finalists included former NFL punter Rick Tuten and St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.) head coach Kevin Kopecky, but ultimately Belger thought Nattiel, who was assistant head coach and receivers coach under Bell, was the best fit.
"First of all loyalty, because (Nattiel's) been with us from the beginning," Belger said. "And I think he's extremely good at dealing with the players. ... He's quiet, but he earns people's respect."
Nattiel's contract is up for renewal annually, according to Belger. Details were not released.
Trinity's NFL pedigree remains intact with Nattiel's hire. A first-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos in 1987, Nattiel played six seasons in the NFL, catching 121 passes for 1,972 yards and eight touchdowns, including a 56-yard touchdown reception from John Elway in Super Bowl XXII.
Nicknamed "The Rocket," Nattiel played at Florida from 1983-86. He caught 117 passes for 2,086 yards and set a then-record average of 17.85 yards per catch.
The new TCHS head coach will continue to cultivate the UF connections that have served the Celtics so well in the past.
Nattiel already has former Gator Jarvis Williams returning to coach defensive backs.
Williams, a second-round selection by the Miami Dolphins in the 1988 draft, coached with Nattiel at Trinity in 2001-02.
Another Gator, John L. Williams, will coach running backs. A first-round selection by Seattle in 1986, Williams played in 149 NFL games before ending his career in Pittsburgh. He totaled 9,661 yards rushing and receiving with 37 career touchdowns in the NFL, earning Pro Bowl selections in 1991 and 1992.
"In order to be the best, you've got to be able to teach it," Nattiel said. "So it's good to get people who have been there and done it. Guys who can teach the little, small things that you wouldn't otherwise know about.
"A guy like Jarvis, who played at the highest level, knows all the tricks of the trade. And obviously the same for a guy like John L. Williams. Those guys are excited about doing it, so we're gonna try to keep this thing on course."
The departure of a solid senior class that includes quarterback John Brantley (Florida) and South Carolina commitments Dion LeCorn (WR) and Antonio Allen (FS) will place additional pressure on Nattiel and the new staff.
But the cupboard isn't bare at Trinity.
"There's gonna be some ups and downs," Nattiel said. "Obviously there comes a time when there's some rebuilding, which is kinda where we're at, but there's nothing like a good challenge The program is gonna continue to be a great program.
"We've got a lot of young kids, kind of like we were a few years ago. You get 'em young, and by the time they're juniors and seniors, they're ready."
Belger said Nattiel's high-profile status as a former NFL and UF star played a role in the hire, but he insists it was his overall coaching style that sold him.
"I think that helps, but even if Ricky didn't play in the NFL and didn't play at Florida, he would still be the one we'd want," Belger said. "He knows his stuff and has a good disposition."
Belger said expectations will have to be curbed early on as 26 seniors will be gone from the Celtics' roster next season.
But he remains confident the new staff will restore order in a hurry.
"I told him nobody's to expect what we had before, but we think we can still stay at a very high level," Belger said. "We're just gonna have to coach 'em up a lot better. I think he's gonna have the people to do that and the energy's gonna be there.
"People that think we're gonna have a major drop down are wrong."
Nattiel, a realtor in Gainesville, is currently assembling the remainder of his staff. He plans to interview current assistants as he moves forward in the process.
"I'd like to keep some guys the kids have been around," he said. "You always want to have that good mixture."
Nattiel declined an offer from Bell to become the JU receivers coach earlier this month.
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