In My Opinion

Players in south Dade rising to top


While the inner-city teams in Miami-Dade County seem to get much of the attention when it comes to football recruiting, there is a region of the county that has been making plenty of noise, and recently, it was big enough for the entire state hear.

As college coaches make plans to attend schools in South Florida during May, many will have to start altering their plans — especially when it comes to getting a chance to see some of the emerging and elite players.

South Miami-Dade County has always produced talent, but as the Hard Knocks Foundation 7-on-7 team found out recently at the New Level Athletics South Regional tournament in Rockledge (near Cocoa), there are plenty of athletes who will have the chance to be very special during the next few years.

Coached by former South Dade High football and wrestling standout Derrick Lester and current Coral Gables assistant coach David Cooney, the Hard Knocks Foundation was started to help youngsters who couldn’t afford to take part in many offseason events. The foundation provided the opportunity for college exposure while giving athletes a spotlight against some of the top prospects in the state.

“I have long said that this is as good an area as you will find when it comes to athletes and football talent in particular,” Lester said. “We started this to give many of our local kids a chance to compete in offseason events when they didn’t have the chance to play for some of the other elite programs.”

This is a team that truly surprised some of the top players in Florida by winning the Rockledge tournament. Although it came as a shock to many, it wasn’t to those who have been around these athletes for years.

“We all know how impressive the football talent is in South Florida,” Cooney said. “The one thing that was hard to do was to watch many of our talented kids from Southern Miami-Dade have to sit home and not compete.”

The 7-on-7 format, which was started by Brett Goetz and the South Florida Express, now has grown into several teams — all designed to give more than 100 major-college prospects a chance to play and showcase their skills.

Fundraising always has been a priority for this program, which also provides an opportunity for many of the rising prospects to take summer trips to colleges across the southeast and other regions of the country.

Because many of the players from schools such as South Dade, Miami Killian, Miami Gulliver Prep, Coral Gables and Miami Southridge have not been included in the elite 7-on-7 mix, Lester and Cooney found that giving these players a chance to compete would eventually bring in some of the heavily recruited prospects. This year, present standouts are mixing with the future prospects to come up with a winning formula.

Among the rising seniors on the team are FSU receiver commit C.J. Worton and his teammate (South Dade) Devontay Keaton. Other Class of 2014 receivers on the team include Antiwon Johnson (Coral Gables) and Malcolm Vandergraft (Killian). Killian running back Jamel Burgess is also seeing action.

Former Homestead quarterback and current South Dade prospect Kahlil Render was the talk of the first big tournament of the offseason. He is joined by Killian’s Nigel Dillard.

Defensively, the senior class was the difference in last weekend’s tournament. Secondary standouts such as Mark Wynn (Coral Gables), Devante Gulley (Coral Gables), Tyrone McGhee (South Dade), Derrick Nottage (South Dade), Marcus Jackson (Homestead), Marcus Stevenson (Southridge) and speedy South Dade prospect Antwan Cordy continue to make a difference.

We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All you have to do is send a You Tube or Hudl link and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein at

Read more Larry Blustein stories from the Miami Herald

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