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Christian Heritage Academy football: A smooth handoff from father to son

Tony Merrell takes over as football coach at Christian Heritage Academy from his father, John.
by Jacob Unruh Published: August 23, 2014

When Tony Merrell stepped on the field Friday night, there were no visible nerves, even as his father stood watching near the corner of the end zone.

For the first time in more than three decades, Christian Heritage Academy has a different football coach, yet it remains in the family, as Tony is taking over for his father, John.

“I know he’s one of the winningest coaches in Oklahoma, but that’s not where I feel the pressure,” Tony said. “The pressure I feel is how he’s trained all of these young men and helped them grow into men he prays are good fathers, good husbands and who love the Lord.”

Tony has spent the past three years running the offense for the Crusaders, earning more responsibility each season from his father.

It was a grooming process.

“Just gave him more responsibilities,” John said. “It could have happened two years ago, but the Lord never did make it clear.

“I’m so pleased because I know he’s going to do a great job. This is the only school he ever went to, he loves Christian Heritage; he loves what the school stands for.”

For nearly 35 years, John has been roaming the sideline and hallways as the head coach. He will remain the school’s athletic director and the Dean of Men, but will also remain a fixture on the Crusaders’ sideline.

“They want me down on the sidelines,” he said. “I’m just going to be observing. I’m just going to enjoy it. Maybe later I’ll tell them what I think, but I’m not going to be coaching.

“They might change their mind. I can’t imagine sitting in the stands and watching. That would really seem odd.”


Tony Merrell oftentimes spent his planning period in his father’s office.

The entire hour was dedicated to football — a dream scenario for Tony — but it was also an hour of getting closer.

It was also John Merrell preparing to turn the football program over to his son this summer.

“I look forward to every single day being able to sit down and talk to him about football,” Tony said. “I don’t think it’s going to change, but it’s a little different now. I’ve just loved being able to spend that time with him.”

Tony, 29, played for his father at CHA before playing briefly at Central Oklahoma and MidAmerica Nazarene in Olathe, Kan.

Then he returned to the Crusaders and is entering his seventh year with the program as a coach. It was nearly four years ago when John began training his son.

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by Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the...
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