As if missing his entire sophomore season with a torn ACL weren’t enough to fuel him, American Heritage running back Sony Michel said he kept his ears open all summer in hopes he might find a little extra inspiration.
Believe it or not, finding doubters to boost his comeback wasn’t difficult.
“I go to this barber shop in Carol City to get my hair down. Every time I’m down there, these guys from Miami Norland talk trash. They say: ‘Oh, you’re nothing, we’re going to beat you. Duke [Johnson] was better. We can stop you,’” Michel said.
“Then, I’d go home [to my parents’ apartment in Hallandale] and some guy who lives on the floor above me and went to Hallandale would be like, ‘You’re not going to be the same, and you weren’t nothing special.”
Michel, considered one of the top running backs in the nation in the Class of 2014, has hung onto every word. He said he has mentally recorded them for playback, and if he needs an extra burst, he’ll be sure to use it.
Patriots coach Jeff Dellenbach, whose team finished 9-3 last season without Michel, said opponents are right about one thing: His star tailback isn’t the same.
“All indications are Sony is better,” Dellenbach said a couple of days into fall practice. “He’s running, cutting hard, doing all the things he was before only better. I can’t wait to see him in a game. I think Sony is going to go out there and go after people. He’s going to come back with vengeance.”
Michel, who led Broward County in rushing as an eighth-grader in 2009 with 1,825 yards and 18 touchdowns, once had the state’s all-time rushing record on his mind. But catching Glades Day senior and University of Florida commitment Kelvin Taylor isn’t his priority anymore. It’s leading Heritage to the Class 5A state title he covets most.
Michel already won a team state title with Heritage this past spring, running the third leg on the championship-winning 400-meter relay team. His surgically repaired left knee? Hasn’t bothered him once.
“These first couple days back on the football field have felt like I never missed a step,” said Michel, who was on the sideline cheering for his teammates all of last season. “It feels like I was never hurt.”
Now at 5-11, 202 pounds (he has gained 7 pounds since his freshman year), Michel said he has gotten stronger in the past year (he benches 225 pounds 19 times and squats 525 pounds) and has been clocked around the same time in the 40-yard dash (4.46).
He said he also spent his time off studying former Heisman finalist and Browns first-round pick Trent Richardson. Even though Michel is about 30 pounds lighter than Richardson, he said he can see himself becoming a more powerful back in the future and is working on that as well as his pass-catching, blocking and being a better student of the game.
“I study his vision, his power, some of the moves he makes — I’ll practice them for muscle memory,” Michel said.
If there was one benefit to not having Michel around last season, Dellenbach said, was that his offense became more balanced under quarterback Tyler Cogswell (an Arkansas recruit), and other options at running back emerged, including Walter Tucker. Because of that, Dellenbach hopes to give Michel less of a workload.
“I’d like to see quality instead of quantity,” Dellenbach said. “The blessing out of the whole thing — and not that I’d ever say I want Sony Michel taken out of the equation — is that a lot of the other guys had to step up. They’ve gotten better because of it. My hope is Sony Michel carries the ball 15 to 20 times, instead of 30 times in a game.”
Michel has no problem with that as long as the Patriots win.
As for college, he said he hopes to have a top five narrowed down by the summer before his senior year. A University of Miami fan growing up, Michel said he wants to play in a pro-style offense, have a good relationship with his running backs coach and feel comfortable in his environment.
At Heritage, it has always been a family atmosphere for Michel. His father Jean works in maintenance. His mother Marie works in the school cafeteria along with his older sister, Lamise Dorestin.
Making it big for them — and his older brother Markin (a sophomore receiver at UMass) — “isn’t pressure,” Michel said.