He said his father Jean gave him the name Sony when he was born “because he had a vision I was going to grow up to be rich someday.”
That day may not be too long from now for Sony Michel, a 5-11, 205-pound blue-chip running back bound for the University of Georgia and possibly the NFL down the road.
But for the immediate future one thought dominates the mind of the 18-year old senior at Plantation American Heritage. “I need a ring,” he said with a smile.
“What’s driving me is the state championship,” he said. “I have a ring for track, but football — I love the game and I need a ring. That’s my only mind-set going into the season.”
Heritage, which has 33 state titles hanging off the walls of its athletic building for triumphs in golf, soccer, baseball, softball, tennis and track, has never won a state championship in football. The Patriots reached the Class 2A state championship in 1998, but were defeated by Tallahassee North Florida Christian 30-13.
Despite becoming a starter in the eighth grade and putting up ridiculous rushing statistics (4,819 yards, 58 touchdowns) in three healthy seasons, Michel has failed to lead Heritage past the second round of the playoffs. In fact, the Patriots haven’t ventured beyond the first round since before Michel tore his ACL as a sophomore and missed the entire season.
“One thing this program has never had is leaders. I’m trying to teach everybody to be a leader — not just the seniors," said Michel, who used to be the quiet guy in the room before changing his tune at the end of last season according to former defensive coordinator and now first-year head coach Mike Rumph.
“Examples of leadership is being where you need to be at the right times and doing the right things when nobody is watching, leading by example,” Michel said. “We had a meeting earlier this summer and I told our players that you’re going to have to sacrifice a lot, and if you’re not ready to sacrifice come back next year when I’m gone.”
Rumph, a former cornerback on the University of Miami’s last national championship team in 2001 and a first-round pick of the 49ers, has loved watching the transformation of his superstar from reserved to intense leader. In a sign of real leadership, Rumph said Michel has pulled players by the side at times this summer for one-on-one talks and has even called team meetings without the coaches — something Rumph said Michel never would have done before.
“I think we were missing a guy like that — like Sony stepping up,” said strong safety Carter Jacobs, the Patriots’ defensive captain. “Everyone respects Sony. He brings that energy.”
Raising the level of intensity in the regular season is something Rumph has aimed to do this season, hoping it pays off with success in the playoffs.
Heritage has put together one of the state’s toughest schedules featuring showdowns with defending Class 6A state champion Miami Central in the opener (Aug. 30), three-time state champion and perennial 3A power Delray American Heritage (Sept. 6), 8A state semifinalist Miami Columbus (Sept. 12), 6A regional finalist Daytona Beach Mainland (Sept. 27) and 4A state runner-up Jacksonville Bolles (Oct. 11).
That doesn’t include tough games with district rivals Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons and Miami Jackson, which has knocked Heritage out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons and has a team some are picking as the state title favorite in Class 5A.
“I hated that half the games last year our starters were out by halftime,” Rumph said. “When it came to the playoff game and playing four quarters we weren’t used to it. I want us to have some games that come down to the wire, where we’re having to play four quarters consistently throughout the season.”
Michel, who ran for 1,258 yards and 18 touchdowns on only 127 attempts last season (102 attempts fewer than his freshman year), figures to see a much heavier workload. With highly touted 6-4, 195-pound junior Torrance Gibson (multiple BCS offers) at quarterback and 5-8, 175-pound standout senior receiver Isaiah McKenzie (offer from Notre Dame), Heritage’s offense will be one of the most potent in the state.
As for his father Jeantilian — who left Haiti he was 19, married Sony’s mom Marie in 1991 and has worked as a maintenance worker at Heritage along with his wife and daughter (they work in the lunchroom) — Sony’s final high school season will be the last time he said he will see his son on a daily basis.
The ride to Athens, Ga., is a bit too long and he said he plans on watching most of Sony’s games on TV. The good news, Jean said, is Sony won’t be alone. His older brother, Marken, will enroll at Georgia in January, Jean said. Marken spent the past two seasons at the University of Massachusetts where he caught 31 passes for 260 yards and a touchdown in 17 games at receiver.
“For years they shared the same clothes, same shoes, same room,” said Jean. “At Georgia, they’ll share a room again. That makes me happy.”
What will really make Jean happy is what could come a few years down the line — when Sony and Marken won’t have to share clothes, shoes or a room anymore.
“I’m looking forward to that experience — that college experience,” Sony said. “Not a lot of people in my family have gone to college. My brother is the first. I’ll be the next.”