FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - People have said American football and Jamaica are not exactly a compatible fit, but a South Florida coach is proving those naysayers wrong — by bringing the sport to his home country.
Roger Harriott’s job on the field is more than just coaching St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, one of the nation’s top high school football programs.
“We have the means to watch the most publicized games, college and NFL games, and we love the Super Bowl in Jamaica as well,” he said.
And it’s in Jamaica, where Harriott was born, that American football has now become a team sport in high schools. In 2014, Harriott held a few clinics in the island nation.
At first, he said, many thought he was joking.
“‘Oh, man, they’re starting football in Jamaica? Are you serious? No, you guys play soccer and run track,'” he said.
But Harriott knew the athletes in Jamaica have speed, endurance, agility and power.
Former Miami Dolphins linebacker Twan Russell, an assistant coach for St. Thomas Aquinas, said he has been to the island to hold camps.
“Speed is a real resource in Jamaica. It’s amazing to me, things that we teach here, they did very naturally when it came to the running,” said Russell. “Now they just have to learn the game.”
Russell teaching Jamaican athletes American football has been a process.
“They were holding the ball [close to their chest], and they were trying to scrum like they’re in rugby,” he said. “It was less of a shoulder than, ‘Let me run my chest into this person,’ so it’s just teaching them how to tackle and be able to make a nice shoulder tackle.”
Until now, the 16 Jamaican high school teams learning the sport have played flag football. Come August, however, they will begin playing football in full pads and tackling will start.
St. Thomas Aquinas has provided equipment. A storage unit holds helmets and pads donated by high schools across the U.S. that will soon be shipped out to Jamaica.
Harriott said he is confident college coaches from the States will soon be recruiting on the island.
“They have the size, they have the speed, they have the intelligence, and they also have the character,” he said. “It’s ingrained into the country.”
Harriott’s two brothers, Jerome and Greg, and Indianapolis Colts cornerback (and former Gator) Quincy Wilson are also part of the effort to teach and make American football successful in Jamaica.
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