Just two years ago, study hall for the Boyd Anderson football team was a time to play cards and crack jokes, according to Romello Taylor.
Now a senior wide receiver, Taylor and four other Cobras standouts paid for squandering their time, losing their eligibility last season when their grade-point averages dipped below 2.0.
Sandley Jean-Felix, a two-way lineman and a mountain of a young man at 6-6 and 300 pounds, said losing the ability to play football for his school reduced him to tears.
“I got emotional,” said Jean-Felix, who has committed to FIU for next season. “I was angry and frustrated. It was not to the point where I hit people or cursed someone out, but I cried a little bit. It was a bad experience, but I had to go through it to learn.”
The others who learned a painful lesson for the Cobras were receiver/safety Eddie Jackson, running back/receiver Braylin Sigler and defensive lineman Zodani Francois.
All five will play a significant role Friday night when the Cobras (9-2) travel to St. Thomas Aquinas (10-2) for what might be the biggest game in BA history — a Class 7A regional final.
A victory would give the Cobras their first-ever berth in the state semifinals and would also avenge a 47-6 defeat it suffered against Aquinas in a 2010 regional final.
It would also likely mean that the Cobras would next play the nation’s No. 1 team, Bradenton Manatee. But the Cobras are focusing on one powerhouse at a time.
Aquinas has won six state titles and, as an elite private school with a rich history of athletic success, is a study in contrast with Boyd Anderson, located in the lower-income neighborhood of Lauderdale Lakes.
“A win on Friday,” Cobras coach Wayne Blair said, “would breathe a little life in our neighborhood.”
The victory would also be personal to Blair, who played linebacker on the 1992 team that won Aquinas’ first state title. He also served as an assistant coach in two stints at Aquinas from 1998 to 2007.
Blair took over at BA last season, and he immediately found that 11 players were academically ineligible, including the aforementioned five.
The coach made sure his kids actually worked during study hall. He also enlisted the help of teachers and his assistant coaches.
“When I first got here,” Blair said, “teachers were up and running [home] as soon as the school bell rang.”
Now, Blair said, teachers stick around to help football players during study hall, which runs from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. In addition, assistant coaches such as Stephane Monereau and Willie Wright, who are teachers at other schools, come to study hall to help.
Jean-Felix, who said he was a “bad kid” in middle school, cursing and getting into fights, has lifted his GPA from 1.8 to 2.1 and expects to have a 2.7 by graduation.
“Many people said I could have done the work all along, but I got too big-headed,” he said. “I was in the spotlight [for football], and I thought I had it made. I found out that without grades, you can’t go anywhere.”
Jean-Felix said teachers are amazed by his transformation, and Taylor has heard similar praise. Had it not been for football, Taylor said he would have been out in the streets, getting into trouble.
“Last year, I wasn’t focused,” Taylor said. “I was focused on girls, going out and having fun — but not school. Now, my goal is to be the first one in my family to graduate from college.”
Blair said that when report cards came out two weeks ago, all his kids were in good standing. And now that the playoffs are here, study hall has been postponed.
“It’s straight football now,” Blair said.
The Cobras will be facing an Aquinas team that has won seven in a row and has lost only one game all season against a school from Florida.
Aquinas is led by its offense, which is averaging 36.3 points, factoring out special teams and defensive scores. Using the same formula, BA is allowing only eight points per game, including 5.0 in the playoffs.
Common opponents leave a confusing picture since Aquinas beat Cypress Bay, 43-17, but lost to Miramar, 27-24. Meanwhile, BA lost to Cypress Bay, 31-15, and beat Miramar, 13-6.
“When we lost to [Aquinas] in my sophomore year, they were the better team,” Taylor said. “They’re a great team, but I feel we can beat them this time.”