Slowly but surely, one building block at a time, Darryel Bethune is working to get the Miami Springs Senior High School football program back up to where it once was not long ago — respectable.
While the Golden Hawks haven’t been any kind of a powerhouse since they put together a magical undefeated 10-0 regular season two decades ago, Springs always found itself at the very least a competitive program. That was until the bottom dropped out two years ago with a winless season and lopsided losses by ridiculous scores.
Last year, Bethune was called in to take over and even though only one win was recorded, the Hawks found themselves battling tough and hanging in there most every week.
Progress, which can come in very small increments sometimes, became even more evident this past May when Springs capped off spring practice with an impressive 20-0 shutout of Varela.
The next step will come this Friday night, Aug. 23 when the Hawks travel to North Miami Stadium to take on North Miami High School at 7:30 p.m. in a 2013 Kickoff Classic, high school football’s answer to a preseason game.
It also will mark a mini-reunion of sorts for Bethune, who began his head coaching career from 2009 to 2011 when he ran the Pioneers program for three seasons and still knows plenty of folks at that school.
“We’re excited and looking forward to getting things going,” Bethune said in a quiet moment after practice last week. “The kids have been working hard and after a few weeks of going up against each other, it’s always good to see someone else in a different uniform.”
Springs will see plenty of different uniforms this season as the Hawks were part of a major classification and district shake-up during the offseason.
While Springs picked up many more teams than they had in just a four-team district a year ago, the Hawks also find themselves in a much more favorable situation not having to deal with powerhouse giants Northwestern or Central, which had been the case in the past.
Springs now will be in a seven-team district but, other than American, which enters as the clear favorite to finish first, you could throw the other six, including Springs, into a blender and not know who will come out of the pack with a second-place finish and coveted playoff spot.
“I feel pretty good because we’ve got the core of our team back from last season (15 of Springs’ 35 players are back) and many of those kids were key contributors,” Bethune said. “There is no substitute for experience and last year we had very little. We’ve been going at it pretty good ever since we hit the field a few weeks ago and certainly there was a real feel-good feeling around here the way we finished up spring practice with the win over Varela.”
The other “five in a blender” that Springs will contest with in the district will be Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Alonzo & Tracy Mourning, Goleman, Mater Academy and finally Springs’ new rival, Westland Hialeah, which represented the Hawks’ lone win last season.
“We feel we’ve got a good solid schedule with plenty of challenges and yet plenty of winnable games,” Bethune said. “I think putting together a winning season and even possibly a playoff berth is not an unreasonable goal and something we can work toward.”
In the famous words of former NFL coach Jim Mora: playoffs? Did he say playoffs?
That would be a major event. Throw out a few of the newer schools in the county that have opened up in the last six or seven years, and Miami Springs currently has the longest playoff drought of any Miami-Dade County large school program dating all the way back to a 1995 postseason contest against Carol City.
“It’s setting the bar high but I think it’s doable and the only way you can really advance a program and get better nowadays is set big goals,” Bethune said. “It’s time for this program to either move forward or fall back and we plan on moving forward.”
They’ll do it with some solid talent on both sides of the ball.
Leading the way offensively will be quarterback Gerald “Lunch” Anderson (we’re not sure how the “Lunch” tag came along) along with his favorite receivers, Kevantre Floyd and Patrick Green.
“Not only has Lunch improved his abilities on the field but he has also stepped up in leading the team as well,” Bethune said of his quarterback. “He spent a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason and even got some of his teammates over to the beach running in the sand.”
Another hidden gem that has emerged is offensive/defensive lineman Devante Marshall. And with a frame of 6-4, 325 pounds, we used the term “hidden” lightly because it’s hard to hide someone like that.
“He’s an incoming senior who wasn’t eligible last year because of academics,” Bethune said. “But he’s done a great job of getting things together in the classroom and now he’s out there turning a few heads.”
He should be. Not many high school linemen check in at that height and weight and with any kind of a decent season, he should garner a lot of looks from college scouts.
Speaking of college scouts, plenty have been out to the school to look at, marvel at and then shakes hands with defensive end Ja Ré Tolbert.
For the first time since Willis Wright graduated five years ago, Springs has a player listed in the Top 100 list of top players from Miami-Dade and Broward County.
Tolbert, who has made a “soft” commitment to Marshall where former Hawks Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler currently reside but also has Northern Illinois and FIU very interested, was hindered by injuries as a junior last season but is healed and ready to go following a big offseason of preparation.
“A real leader,” Bethune said. “There’s somebody that could have ‘coasted’ because he already had the interest from the major colleges but instead he worked his tail off during the offseason to become a better player and I look for him to have a really big year and lead the way on defense.”
Other key contributions, according to Bethune, are likely to come from running back Malik Thomas on offense and strong safety Malik Adelson on defense. And, even though he tries to downplay it because he doesn’t want to appear like a father propping up his son, sophomore D.J. Bethune will contribute big things as well both on offense as a running back and defense as a linebacker.