Darnell Lee plans to pinch himself, but not anytime soon.
Lee, a 1993 graduate of East Ascension High School, saw his life come full circle Friday when the 40-year-old was named the school’s football coach and athletic director.
“I got a text to come to the office, and they told me I was the best fit at this time,” said Lee, recounting the details of his hiring. “My first reaction was a long pause, being overwhelmed. (EA principal Traci McCorkle) reached out and we hugged. It was one of those moments where it will hit you later.”
Lee replaces Paul Bourgeois, who resigned Dec. 14 after five years at the school. The Spartans were 31-15 during his tenure, including a 5-6 record and appearance in the Class 5A state playoffs in 2015.
“Coach Bourgeois did an excellent job here,” said Lee, who coached the team’s safeties in 2014 and was elevated to defensive coordinator last season. “I came back to help him, to take it to the next level and was able to see the progress. It’s not like coming in and having to rebuild. It’s picking up where he left off and fine tune some things.”
There were 26 applicants for the position. Lee sold his vision of having a tough, hard-nosed football program that mirrored the town’s blue-collar mentality and a successful overall athletic department.
Lee also wants to focus on player development and serve as a role model for his players, much in the same manner his former coach — Barrett Murphy — did for him during his playing days.
“We’re used to winning, and the only thing that hasn’t been done here is to win a state championship,” he said. “But most importantly we want to help our young people become successful citizens.”
Lee, who helped EA to the state semifinals in 1992 as a tailback/defensive back, signed at McNeese State where he played defensive back and earned his degree in 1997.
Lee played and coached in the Professional Indoor Football League and spent eight years coaching high school football in the Lake Charles area. He became the head coach at Northwest High in the Opelousas area, guiding the Raiders to a 15-17 record over three years and winning the consolidated school’s first playoff game before moving to EA in 2014.
“A lot of kids on the team here are my relatives and kids of my classmates,” Lee said. “It’s special to be able to come back home and be in that type atmosphere where it’s not as hard to get to know people. You already know them. Naturally the support is here.”