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Former Wagner, Bon Homme football coach Morrell dies of heart attack

WAGNER -- Former Wagner and Bon Homme football coach Russ Morrell died of a heart attack Friday while on a fishing trip in Alaska.

Morrell retired from coaching football at Wagner High School eight years ago as the fifth winningest coach in South Dakota high school history. His overall record, with six schools over 33 years, was 233-89.

Current Wagner football coach Jason Knebel said Morrell had made an effort in recent years eat right and get healthy after suffering a heart attack in 2004, when he was 54.

"He was committed to taking better care of himself," Knebel said. "The last time I talked to him he was just so upbeat and saying how well he felt and how excited he was to go to Alaska. It is a total shock that something like this could happen to him."

Morrell continued to teach in Wagner until 2013 after retiring from coaching. Knebel added that Morrell and his wife Sue were very active and enjoyed camping and spending time with their children and grandchildren.

"He helped in the transition a lot and really took me under his wing," Knebel said of taking over the Wagner football program from Morrell. "He was a great coach, but a better man. He had something about that he was just one of the people that others were drawn to. He would always give you time."

Before taking the job in Wagner, Morrell coached and taught for 20 years in the Bon Homme School District, winning back-to-back state titles in 1994 and 1995.

Former Bon Homme football player and current wrestling coach at the school Mark Stoebner said he was grateful for the chances Morrell gave him on the field and relationship he had with his former coach as an adult.

"When he came in he turned the whole culture of football around in Bon Homme," Stoebner said of Morrell's impact on the community. "I just remember the discipline that he had. I wasn't a very big guy and he really gave me a chance to play. I really felt a lot of coaches wouldn't have given me that opportunity with my size."

Stoebner served as a coach in Bon Homme while Morrell was the athletic director at the school.

Morrell also coached football before taking the position at Bon Homme at Irene (1973-75), Rapid City Central (1975-76), Burke (1976-81) and Tyndall-Tabor (1981-82). He was inducted in the South Dakota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2008.