It’s another sweltering July afternoon at Miami Northwestern Senior High, and as usual the Bulls are preparing for another high-pressured football season.
Outside on the school’s basketball courts, a group of about 40 boys dripping in sweat are bending and bouncing under the direction of three instructors from Fast Twitch Training.
Inside, a group of about another 40 young men are taking turns grunting as they lift dumbbells and bars inside the school’s newly furnished weight room. Former Dolphins offensive tackle and Northwestern alumnus Vernon Carey — who paid for the new weight room — is watching senior offensive lineman Gerald Wright use all of the might in his 6-2, 321-pound body to squat more than 400 pounds.
A moment later, a coach’s voice bellows: “How you feel?”
The room responds in unison: “Like a Bull! Like a Bull!”
It might sound like business as usual at Miami’s foremost football factory, a program that has won four state championships and recently had three former players from the 2008 national championship team taken in last April’s NFL Draft.
But it isn’t entirely.
The coach in charge is white.
Stephen Field, a former University of Miami graduate assistant under Randy Shannon, never saw race as a big deal when he took over in January. And maybe it isn’t.
But it is historic. Northwestern, a school built in 1951 and still 93 percent black, never had a white head football coach until Field was hired to replace three-time, state-championship winning coach Billy Rolle, who stepped aside last fall after the Bulls missed the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
A comfy welcome mat wasn’t exactly laid out for Field when he arrived either. Not everyone among the alumni or the school’s Liberty City fan base was happy.
And the players? At first they thought it was a joke.
“First time we saw him, first meeting I was like, ‘Nah, I ain’t playing for this guy here,’ ” Wright said. “He don’t know us. Why would he even sign up for this job? He can’t handle the pressure. But as weeks went by, we realized he wasn’t what he thought he was.”
Said junior cornerback JoJo Robinson: “He’s not too much different from us. Even though he has a different skin color, we’re really the same.”
Truth is, Field, 34, shares a similar rough childhood with his players, many of whom have grown up in the poor neighborhoods and broken homes surrounding the school.
Field lived with his birth parents until he was 2 but was adopted at age 4. Details are sketchy, he says, but something tragic happened and he lived in foster care for two years. He can’t remember how many different houses he lived in during that time, but says there were “emotional scars.”
“All I know is I was born in Fort Lauderdale and my parents that I have now picked me up through an agency there. They’re a really good family,” said Field, who went on to become an all-state tight end at Palm Beach Lakes High.
“But the only blood-related person I know is my daughter [Leah Skye Field] who is 9. So that’s why I can relate. People may say ‘Who’s this white guy? He don’t know what I’ve been through.’ But I do. And I want to help these young kids get to college the same way I got help.