When Tim Neal first became Southwest’s football coach in 2009, the Eagles were coming off their best season in school history.
Southwest had won a district championship for the first time and made the playoffs for only the second time in 52 years.
But with many of the architects of that turnaround gone, including Lamarcus Joyner (now a junior defensive back at Florida State), Southwest came crashing down to earth in Neal’s first season.
Over the past two seasons, however, Neal has helped the Eagles get back on their feet.
Following its first playoff season since that stellar run in 2009, Southwest will look to take it a step further this year.
Neal, a former assistant coach at Coral Gables, has a strong core returning from last year’s 6-4 season that includes a number of talented sophomores, including wide receiver Dre Pickett-White, who caught 18 passes for 382 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Another sophomore, running back Trevon Sands, figures to be among the better rushers in the district. Big junior Dennis Hernandez (6-4, 265 pounds) and seniors Roberto Herrera, Nick Pappas and Nick Rojas anchor the offensive line.
But defense is where the Eagles might be able to separate from what is typically one of the most competitive districts in Miami-Dade County. Senior Edney Alvarez should be a strong presence among the team’s linebackers, and sophomore DeShawn Dawkins anchors a solid secondary.
Around district 15-8A
• Braddock lost a few of its key players that helped it win the district crown for the third time in four seasons. But coach Frank Rojas still has enough talent for a repeat run.
The biggest graduations were Jarvon Anderson, an explosive running back who scored 10 touchdowns and ran for 1,034 yards last season, and offensive lineman Robert Conyers, an All-Dade first-team selection. Anderson signed with Florida Atlantic, and Conyers went to Mississippi.
The Bulldogs still have a solid front capable of making the team productive offensively again. Seniors Jose Cabrera and Michael Lorca and junior John Wesley anchor the group.
Senior George Knowles (5-10, 175) will try to emerge as Braddock’s new running threat after running for 317 yards and six touchdowns last season. Knowles is also an accomplished wrestler at Braddock qualifying for state the past couple of years. Knowles will likely chip in on defense, as well, along with junior linebacker David Perez.
Varela underwent some big changes to its coaching staff.
After going 14-16 the past three seasons, Matt Dixon took the coaching position at Palmetto. The Vipers hired longtime Coral Park assistant Chris Mollinedo, and brought in coaching veterans Joe Montoya and Clark Eakes as assistants.
Eakes, who has assisted at Killian and South Dade in recent years, was Varela’s first football coach. He will be the offensive coordinator for a unit that brings back only two starters. Montoya, who coached Coral Gables the past 13 seasons, will run the defense.
• After a 5-5 season in 2011, Ferguson will try to make its second-ever playoff appearance and first since 2009. Senior quarterback Nick Alvarez, who ran for 880 yards and 12 touchdowns, is the centerpiece of the Falcons offense. Alvarez will try to be more productive in the passing game. He will play behind a solid line led by senior Lucas Valdes.
• Sunset was the most consistent program in the district before posting a pair of 1-9 records the past two seasons. The Knights will try to get back to respectability this season behind two versatile senior defensive ends/tight ends Victor Ishmael (6-3, 240) and Austin Krtausch (6-3, 220). Ishmael will also play some running back and linebacker.