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‘He was so special’: Jackson assistant football coach Lin Shell dies at 39

Former JU football star remembered as a mentor and role model to students in the area

Former Ribault head coach Lin Shell during warm-ups before a football game against Raines at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. [Gary Lloyd McCullough/ For News 4 JAX]
Former Ribault head coach Lin Shell during warm-ups before a football game against Raines at Ribault High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019. [Gary Lloyd McCullough/ For News 4 JAX] (© Gary Lloyd McCullough 2019)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.Editor’s note: After initially saying Shell had died from COVID-19, his family reached out to News4Jax to say that he only tested positive for the virus. They did not elaborate on the cause of his death.

Lin Shell, a former star football player at Jacksonville University and an assistant coach at Jackson High School, died on Thursday.

Shell was 39 and in very good health, according to friends and family.

His sudden passing stunned friends, coaches and players across the area, and across the country.

It was difficult to grasp how a man with such energy and in such good physical condition could be gone so suddenly.

Jackson head coach Christopher Foy said Shell was probably the most healthy person he’s ever seen. Shell’s father, Lin Shell Sr., said that Lin initially went to the hospital for a pinched nerve in his neck that had been bothering him and not for any symptoms of sickness.

Shell was known for his big energy off and on the field. Foy said Shell would get the very best out of every kid — every day.

An enormous athlete, a tremendous coach and a beloved person.

“Every kid was mesmerized [by him]. They held onto every word and he was so special. Not only could he coach and teach it, but he could still do it,” Foy said.

The only way for Foy to describe Shell is energy.

“All energy baby, all energy, you got to bring all energy,” said Foy.

Shell, who went by Lin-J, was inducted into the JU football hall of fame in 2013. He was a two-time first team All-Pioneer Football League selection after a sterling career as a return specialist and defensive back.

JU athletic director Alex Ricker-Gilbert said in a statement that the Dolphins community mourned the loss of one of the best players in program history.

“I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Lin-J Shell. The JU family mourns with them. He was a beloved athlete, friend, and member of the community, as well as someone who embodied the fighting spirit of JU on- and off-the-field,” he said.

After JU, Shell played arena football and later, for four teams in the Canadian Football League before returning to Jacksonville and segueing into teaching and coaching.

“There was no way in the world you could be in his presence and you would never feel unhappy or down, you would always feel better because he made you feel better,” Foy said.

Foy said Shell, a physical education teacher at Ribault, had a method to his coaching that went beyond the field.

“A good mentor will always try to touch a student or its players to be better than they were,” he said.”

News of Shell’s passing has been shocking, including for his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, Travis Thomas.

“He just had a larger than life mentality,” Thomas said. “He was a king. He was like a warrior and he rubbed off on everybody. He just had confidence that was contagious.”

Thomas met Shell back in 2002. Thomas attended Edward Waters College at the time (now known as Edward Waters University) while Shell was at Jacksonville University.

Thomas said once they connected and became fraternity brothers, it was always support always love.

“I’m just thankful having him here in our community because he helped fellas,” said Thomas. “They need to see that shining example. That’s why he was a shining example”

Friend Vernon Edwards Jr. said Shell’s death didn’t seem real, and that he was still trying to process things. Shell was in Edwards’ wedding last May.

“That was my brother there, more than a friend, just a brother. My kids’ godparents. Almost like losing a brother right now, the life of the family. He always had a great spirit. He was healthy. One of the healthiest guys I knew,” Edwards said.

Shell spent the 2019 season as the interim head coach at Ribault, moving into that head coaching role after the abrupt removal of Kelvin Smith. The Trojans went 4-5 in Shell’s lone season there and played in the 50th Northwest Classic against Raines in a game televised live on WJXT Channel 4.

Lin Shell, a former star football player at Jacksonville University and an assistant coach at Jackson High School, died on Thursday after a battle with COVID-19. Shell was 39 and in very good health, according to friends.
Lin Shell, a former star football player at Jacksonville University and an assistant coach at Jackson High School, died on Thursday after a battle with COVID-19. Shell was 39 and in very good health, according to friends.

Outside of football, Shell garnered quite a bit of attention for his actions during a fight at school in 2018 at Ribault. Shell disarmed a woman who had retrieved a gun from her car and attempted to return to the school gym where the fight was going on. Shell stopped her, grabbed her arm and led her out of the gym before he summoned a school resource officer.

Tributes to Shell continued to pour in across social media Thursday and Friday. His family said that they’ve seen and heard those stories, and it makes them realize just how much of an impact he left on people.

“I’m so proud right now,” Lin Shell, Sr. said. “I don’t know what to do. We’re hurting, which is one thing, but we’re so proud of the love being shown and by the young kids.”

It continued a tough summer at Jackson.

Another assistant, offensive coordinator, Donald Rocker, Jr., died unexpectedly of congestive heart failure on May 2. He was 26.

“It’s one of those things it’s silly to try to replace it it’s been such a hard, but however it’s brought us so close together,” said Foy. “These two young men had such a large impact on everybody. We try to reflect back on them. That’s what carries us through.”


About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.