Posted: 1:43 pm Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Suncoast hires Jessie Hester as football coach (with video) 

By Matt Porter

Suncoast High has hired a new football coach and it’s Jessie Hester, a former NFL and Florida State wide receiver who spent the last three years at his alma mater Glades Central.

Suncoast has tabbed Jessie Hester (shown in 2009) as the man to turn its football program around. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

Suncoast has tabbed Jessie Hester (shown in 2009) as the man to turn its football program around. (Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post)

The decision was announced to Suncoast students Wednesday afternoon at the Riviera Beach school’s auditorium. 

Hester, who was fired Dec. 17 after three years at Glades Central, takes over for Micah Mays, who was pushed out by Suncoast’s administration last month. 

Suncoast athletic director Kelli Erianne said Hester impressed that he wanted to bring back football pride at Suncoast, which went 3-7 last year and lost in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs. 

“We were impressed with his demeanor and the vision that he had for Suncoast,” Erianne said. “He had real reasons that he wanted to come here, not just that it was an open football job.” 

Hester said he sees Suncoast as a “championship program, over time” and says .500 and playoff success is attainable in his first year. “You want to win playoff games so the kids can get that winning feeling and know what it takes to win games,” Hester said. “We want to go in with that goal.” 

He met Wednesday with several potential assistant coaches and expected to name a staff in the coming weeks.

Hester, 47, made the Class 2A state finals in two of his three years as Glades Central coach, going 36-4 overall with three playoff appearances. Meanwhile, Suncoast’s only state final appearance came in 1981 under Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Famer Al Sutton, who also coached the Chargers to state tournament appearances from 1976-79, in 1984 and 1997. Jimmie Bell brought the Chargers to states in 2002 and 2004. 

States isn’t the expectation this year for Suncoast, which has posted a 12-27-1 record (.313) over the past four years. Mays was 3-7 in his only year at the school and Alan Williams was a combined 9-20-1 in three years. The Chargers won two games in two seasons prior to Williams. 

“I’m feeling pretty confident about this season and college recruitment looks good right about now,” junior safety Davison Colimon said in a text message to The Post. “I’m happy they chose him, can’t wait for spring.” 

Hester was highly influential in developing some of Glades Central’s best players, including wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Dent, who earned scholarships to Florida State after playing for Hester. 

“He was the best coach,” Glades Central senior linebacker Robert Way said after Hester’s December dismissal. “He had great relationships with all the kids. He was a great motivator.” 

Hester’s hire adds an interesting layer to the Chargers’ Friday, Oct. 7 district game against Glades Central, to be played at Suncoast. The teams are part of the new District 14-5A that includes Boynton Beach, Fort Pierce Westwood and Jensen Beach. 

Hester said that game will be “an emotional deal for me, of course. Strange. But one you’re looking forward to because of the dynamics and everything that went down,” he said. “The kids themselves will be jacked up and ready to go play for their coaches, no question about it.” 

While he loves his alma mater, Hester said coaching at Suncoast offers a respite from the pressures of his last job. At Suncoast, he said, “you can just go in there and coach. You don’t worry about the headaches of it all from outside sources. You can just concentrate on the game and the kids, and make sure they’re focused and learning the game like they should be.”

He should have a big effect on Suncoast’s players, several of whom were thinking of transferring out of the school this offseason. Suncoast, which has had three coaches in the last five years, has recently lost Riviera Beach-native players to other schools, such as Dwyer and Palm Beach Lakes. 

“We want to keep those homegrown kids there. That’s how you build a real strong, positive football program, because the community rallies around it and it feeds itself,” Hester said, adding that after he applied for the job in January, he spoke with some players who had thought of transferring.

 ”That was a concern with a lot of the kids, not knowing what direction the program was going in,” Hester said. “All those kids are really excited about the opportunity we’re about to embark upon. We’re all in this journey together.” 

At today’s announcement, Suncoast principal Dr. Linda G. Cartlidge told students she heard the cries of players who were disappointed over the instability in the football program, and said she had a way to make it up to them. She then introduced Hester, who said it was “just priceless” to see the looks on players’ faces. 

Erianne said after Hester was introduced, one player expressed his thanks to her. 

“He was squeezing my hand and saying ‘thank you, thank you,’” she said. 

Staff writer Jeff Greer contributed to this report.

ESPN760′s Herb Uzzi caught up with Hester at his Wellington home. Click to see the video.