PEARL, MS (WDAM) - Coach Joe Hartfield had big shoes to fill when he stepped in the season following Hattiesburg's 2006 state championship, when the Tigers were led by Larry Knight.
Twelve years later, Hartfield has brought the Tigers their sixth state title and the first in his 20-year coaching career.
"[Hattiesburg] won it in 2006 under coach Knight and coach Knight left a huge legacy to fill," Hartfield said. "We're just glad to be able to hang another banner."
"For a coach to go through all those battles with back injuries, health problems, and still bounce back and come to practice every day and really dedicate himself to this game, that's something to congratulate him with," said Hattiesburg senior Dexter Jordan. "That's all he wanted, and we congratulate him with a state championship."
After undergoing spine surgery in 2016, Hartfield didn't know if he would coach again. Two years later he could be seen lifting a gold glove at Trustmark Park after beating Lewisburg in the class 5A state title.
Hartfield's friends and family were on hand to witness the Tigers' championship, including former coach Jimmy Pierce – who led Hattiesburg to its first state title in 1980.
"I am just beaming," Pierce said. "In fact, I was almost drawn to tears when [Hartfield] finally won that state championship. He's been close a couple times. When I was replaced with Larry Knight and then coach Hartfield, I had a little to do with both of those coaches coming behind me. Larry had played for me and I knew Joe. We just got better and it's just an honor to see these guys, what they have done, what Joe has done. It's been miraculous and I can't tell you how proud I am of that team."