It didn’t take Kendrell McFadden long to make an impression last season at McArthur High.
In fact, it took him only one practice. One play, really.
“He came out of the gate and just laid out our star receiver Levatiae Kelly — had him on the ground for awhile,” Mustangs coach Andrew Rhoden recalled last week of his 6-3, 180-pound sophomore strong safety.
“You know how some kids are intimidated by upperclassmen? He isn’t one of those. He demands attention and respect from everybody on the field. This summer at the Florida State camp, he was in the front of the line, telling older guys to pick up the pace. He has a heart like a lion. He doesn’t have fear.”
If the names McFadden, McArthur and Florida State ring a bell, there is a reason. Kendrell’s older cousin is cornerback Bryant McFadden, who starred at McArthur and FSU before winning two Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
While the elder McFadden, 30, is currently a free agent looking for work, the younger McFadden continues to follow in his footsteps. Last season, Kendrell started all 11 games for the Mustangs as a freshman, leaving behind bumps and bruises and highlight-reel hits.
“At first I came in as a quarterback, but it wasn’t working out,” he said. “So I got moved to safety. They saw I had a desire to hit, and that’s just what it came out to be.”
Although he can’t officially receive written offers for another year, McFadden has already drawn oral offers from a dozen schools — Florida, Florida State, FIU, Indiana, Kansas State, Purdue and Texas A&M among them.
“Some schools are looking at him as an outside linebacker. They want to see how big he’s going to get,” Rhoden said. “In the highlight tape, you’ll see him hitting a lot of people. He doesn’t play like your typical 16-year-old kid.”
And playing young kids such as McFadden is something that doesn’t scare the 28-year-old Rhoden. After all, he was still a kid himself when he got into coaching at Ely.
“My career ended early with a shoulder injury, so I came back to Ely and started working with linebackers under Steve Davis,” said Rhoden, who went on to make stops as an assistant at West Virginia under Rich Rodriguez, Hampton University and then Boyd Anderson High before getting the head-coaching job at McArthur last season.
“One thing I learned from coach Davis was if a kid is good enough, why not let them play as a freshman? That experience come their junior, senior year is invaluable.”
The Mustangs, who ended a 16-game losing streak dating to 2009 and finished 7-4 in Rhoden’s first campaign last season, could end up starting four more freshmen in 2012: quarterback Kylan Nelson, receivers Stefan Francois and Steve Newbold, and defensive end/linebacker Corey Johnson Jr.
They are talented Pop Warner stars, Rhoden said, who probably would have gone elsewhere if he and his assistants didn’t already establish a precedent of giving young players the opportunity to play right away.
McArthur has always had great football feeder programs in the area: Pembroke Pines Optimist, Washington Park and Pasadena Lakes.
But Rhoden said getting those players to come to McArthur was a challenge.
He’s trying to bring them back by stressing McArthur’s history and bringing back the school’s orange jerseys.
“Errict Rhett played here. Bryant McFadden played here. Erasmus James played here,” Rhoden said. “You’re able to go to Division-I college from here and be successful from here. Now, it’s just a matter of winning championships. We can do that, too.”
In all, McArthur brings back 17 starters. The biggest stars — aside from McFadden — are senior linebackers Jeremy Benjamin (6-3, 225) and Cameron Johnson (6-3, 180), who had 32.5 sacks last season.
Junior Terrell Bonds (5-10 165) comes over from Liberty High in Orlando to share the load with Nelson at quarterback. Bonds threw for 2,046 yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions and ran for 406 yards last season.
“Terrell is a phenomenal athlete. He can play anywhere,” Rhoden said. “If we had to play a game today he would start at cornerback for us as well as receiver and quarterback. He’s a high-character kid.”
Although St. Thomas Aquinas figures to be the favorite to win the district, the Mustangs believe they will be playoff contenders along with Plantation and Cooper City.
“We’ve got a real talented team,” Bonds said. “If we can put it all together, I think we can be special.”