Successful Lely High School Head Basketball Coach Fritz Jacques, better known as Coach Fritz in his ever-growing circle of influence, is a driven man whose plate is not only full, but overflowing.
“My momma always told me if there’s not a lot on your plate, there’s not enough,” remarked Coach Fritz with the conviction of a man who is devoted to helping young people reach their full potential. “That’s why I’m always a grinder. No matter what chapter I close, I’m going to open another one.”
The latest chapter in his book of life is being written during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Not one to sit around, Coach Fritz needed to refill his plate. And true to form, his plate was quickly filled to overflowing.
“It started off when a kid contacted me during Corona,” Coach Fritz shared. “Said he wanted to get right because he’s going to college. So, we started. One turned into two, two turned into four, four turned into eight; then the little kids, they see the videos, they want to get involved. Their friends want to get involved. Now I’ve got a little kid group. Now a whole bunch of girl basketball players have contacted me. I’ve got a group of them. I’ve been doing a hockey player—but that one’s personal. He’s a Division 1 Goalie. Yesterday I did a hockey group of four, three goalies and a defender. So I’m doing them now. I’m trying to give back to the community, man.”
Coach Fritz’s ultimate goal is to have his own gym for conducting his training. He has the expertise and drive, and now, he believes, the backing.
“The ultimate goal is to have a gym running,” he said. “I created my LLC. I just talked to Jalen Watkins, he plays in the NFL, he’s Sammie Watkins’ brother. They do something very similar to what I want to do. It’s called D1 Sports. They’re in Tampa, Orlando and Tennessee. I just started conversations with him, just to get information on how to do it. What kind of athletes they let through, how they run their system; I’m still learning. I’ve got people reaching out to me to help, give advice, maybe help financially. We’re going to make it happen, man, for the community.
“So, by the time it’s offseason for these kids, December, January, they can come in and start running with some of these college athletes. And in April, May, we get some professional athletes in there. In summertime, get some college athletes and some top-notch high school athletes that need the little touch, maybe they got the Division 1 offer, but their technique is not solid, and they want to train like a pro. They would come to us and we’ll help ‘em out, and get ‘em right. Get ‘em ready. So that’s my vision. And I’ve got a lot of people helping now. I don’t do it for attention. I really do it for the personal relationships I have—and it grew. The true story about the whole thing. The Coronavirus thing helped. Because I was home. My brain is always runnin’.”
Coach Fritz has credibility with the players he coaches and the youth he influences. The athletes he trains today don’t remember his high school career, but they know about his Division 1 success. As a 4-year starter at Kent State University, Jacques racked up 215 tackles as a hard-hitting cornerback in the highly competitive Mid-American Conference.
When we caught up with Coach Fritz, he was training a group of college athletes. All Lely High School graduates, all attending college on a scholarship, all Haitian Americans. To a man, each of these finely tuned athletes started at the bottom rung of the ladder when it comes to competitive football. Things as simple as knowing the rules of the game were foreign to them. That’s where Coach Fritz comes in.
“Fact,” Coach Fritz says emphatically. “It’s the culture. You’ve got to think about it. You’ve got a lot of Haitian kids—and some of them come from Haiti. Some of them were born here. The parents are not educated on football until late. Until their kids get good. When their kids get good, they realize it’s an avenue for their kids to get to college. It’s all about the culture. We have a super Haitian culture. We have a lot of Haitian kids in the NFL. A ton of us. I’m Haitian. How we’re brought up, the parents don’t believe in football. In their mind, it’s an American sport and they don’t believe in it. It’s violent; they don’t want their kids to get hurt. Until they get to an age where they can say, ‘Mom, I want to play.’ That’s why a lot of those kids start late. At Lely High School, that’s a great example. A lot of those kids at Lely, maybe they’re freak athletes, but they don’t really know football. We’re trying to impact our community. That’s East Naples, that’s North Naples, Naples City, Immokalee—everybody. This whole Southwest Florida community. Not just our side of town.”
Coach Fritz’s training is not just for the Haitian American athletes, but as a towering figure in the local Haitian American community, the players are naturally drawn to him.
A shining example of Coach Fritz’s influence is local standout Tupac Isme. The thickly muscled Bethune Cookman running back cuts an impressive figure. He’s big, strong and fast. In 2018, he equaled an NCAA record when he streaked 99 yards for a touchdown. As a senior at Lely in 2015, Isme had a breakout season, rushing for 1,394 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. He had a list of fine football schools offering him scholarships.
“I had plenty of scholarship offers coming out of high school,” said the soft-spoken Isme. “But I tore my ACL. I had offers from FAU, FIU, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern. A lot of great football schools.”
When he was injured, most of his scholarships offers were pulled from the table. All except for one.
“If you know football, you know how injuries go,” Isme reflected. “Luckily, I had Bethune Cookman who stuck with me to the very end.”
Isme has endured a number of serious injuries. Most athletes would have given up long ago. And while he has battled through more than his share of life’s tragedies, he is thankful for a role model like Coach Fritz to lean on.
“Coach Fritz has impacted my life greatly,” Isme confessed. “From motivating me, to helping me find a new life. Honestly, I credit him as a major part of my craft. You know, people as they grow up, they struggle a lot. Through my journey I had a lot of things I struggled with. And Coach Fritz could relate with me. The first day I came back from the Coronavirus, I talked to Coach Fritz, and he pretty much read my mind. He told me everything. He said, ‘Hey man, go out there and have fun with it.’ Because I’ve been in my head for a long time. I would say he taught me, not just the game of football, but the game of life. He taught me, man, whatever you do, have fun with it—go hard. It’s not easy to register that all the time. Sometimes you need somebody to help you get out of that black hole, that gray area that I was in for so long. I’ve had five surgeries—all football–related. I’ve had both of my parents pass away. I’ve had a lot of deaths. A lot of things that will deathly derail you from your path.
“I have a great family, a great support system,” Isme reflected. “But honestly, if I had Coach Fritz with me on every sideline, I’d score four or five touchdowns every game just from having him there alone. He helped me find a second life. A second gear, a third gear. I definitely credit him for a lot of my endeavors. He’s helped me, he’s talked me right through it. That’s what I mean by new life. I would say he’s definitely been a father figure to me—but more in a relatable fashion. He’s very knowledgeable on everything, whether it’s school, psychology, keeping your head straight and not being distracted by everything else that happens in the world. He’s been through it all. He’s seen it all. He’s a father figure in a very relatable fashion. And that’s why people come to him. They don’t come to him just because he’s great at crafting people in sports. He’s just a great role model, to be honest.”
Isme is a special project for Coach Fritz. He’s proud of what the young man has accomplished—and believes there are more good things on the horizon for him.
“Tupac graduated from Bethune Cookman,” Coach Fritz said. “He could not play football anymore if he didn’t want to. He’s got his degree, but he wants to go back. We’ve talked about it. He’s going to have fun; he’s going to have to bring everything to the table. He needs to go back. He’s ready to go now. I think he’s got a new motivation. I think he’s clear in his mind. He’s got an impact friend that’s always on his side, willing to help him. I think he’s ready to go this year. He’s going to have a breakout year.”
“So here I am now,” Isme said following his workout with Coach Fritz. “Waiting for my final stride in college. Healthy physically, mentally, emotionally. I’m intact. I’m in tune with all of my elements. That’s one of the biggest reasons I come to Coach Fritz. He helps me keep my head on straight. To every play, to every day, to every class. To every accolade that I achieve. He continues to help me stay humble, but to celebrate life and your accomplishments at the same time. A lot of people come to him for that reason. He’s credible—he gets people to the next level. My high school football career; I was two completely different people my first two years until I got to Coach Fritz. When I got with Coach Fritz, that’s when I became faster, stronger. My IQ raised up a notch. Everything kicked in.”
A typical Southwest Florida thunderstorm roared in and stopped this training session. The New Hope Ministries’ field was full of Pop Warner-league football players and cheerleaders, along with Coach Fritz’s gang.
Coach Fritz was quick to praise CJ Noel, another former Lely football star who is giving back to his community. Noel had college suitors following his standout career at Lely, but he didn’t have his green card. He instead went into insurance.
“Everything happens for a reason,” said Noel, who still has the bright, kind eyes he flashed as an all-district running back in high school. “I have my own insurance agency. I’m now giving back to the kids. Someone did it for us, now I have to do it for the kids coming up.”
Noel is the president of the South Naples Trojans Pop Warner team. He’s been in Coach Fritz’s corner for a long time.
“I’ve been with Coach Fritz forever,” said Noel. “He’s bringing in the kids from all over the county. It doesn’t matter if you’re in North Naples, South Naples. If you want to get better, just come on over and he’ll train you. It doesn’t get any better than that. I wish we had that when I was in school. It would have helped a lot of us. It just happens that a lot of the kids in South Naples have Haitian parents. We’re doing it for all of the kids. They’re attached to us because we’ve been there. We tell them to keep their noses clean, respect your teachers, respect your parents. Do the right thing and good things will happen to you. Doesn’t matter how good you are in sports, if you don’t have the grades you’re not going anywhere.”