Stephen Paladines has a good memory and he remembers it like it was yesterday.
It was, in fact, two years ago when he and two other of his current teammates on the Miami Springs Golden Hawks football team endured a most difficult time.
“It was the pep rallies I think that hurt the most,” said Paladines, a defensive end. “Pep rallies are supposed to be where the student body comes out and cheers for you when you get introduced and we would actually get booed.”
What Paladines, Armani Hernandez and Bobby Stinson had to endure was perhaps the most miserable season any high school football team has ever had to go through.
The 2011 season at Springs not only ended with the first winless campaign in the program’s 45-year history but scores so lopsided (556-49 combined) that, by season’s end they had made it into the Rivals.com national record books for futility. It was a season that brought the wrath and insults from cruel students who perhaps didn’t know any better.
Not surprisingly, a coaching change was made following the season and Springs alum Darryel Bethune was brought in to try to rescue a ship that had already sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
Flash forward 20 months later. As much excitement as there is this week surrounding the revived Springs football program as the Hawks prepare for their first playoff game in 18 years this Friday night when they travel to Fort Lauderdale to take on defending Class 7A state champion St. Thomas Aquinas, only Paladines and Hernandez and Stinson can really appreciate the moment.
Then sophomores, they were just three of 23 players still in uniform at the end of that 2011 season and are the only three players (along with one assistant coach, Walt Walker) who hung in there and endured the boos and the insults hurled their way in the halls of the school.
Now they have come out the other side of a very dark tunnel and are enjoying the fruits of real excitement as a huge pep rally, a real pep rally with an excited student body, is planned at the school this Friday before the buses leave for Fort Lauderdale.
“The insults were pretty rough,” said Stinson, a cornerback who leads the defense with five interceptions this year. “It was really tough to take at times but now it makes me appreciate things that much more looking back. I feel like I’m stronger as an individual and a person now for having gone through something like that and stuck to it.”
Stinson said he wasn’t sure at the time what his football future held but then learned of the coaching change.
“That really rejuvenated me when I learned Coach Bethune was coming back,” said Stinson. “He was here as the OC (offensive coordinator) when T.Y. (Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton), Cato (Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato) and Tommy (Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler) were here and I knew he would be able to come in and change the culture, and he really has.”
Hernandez was an offensive tackle on the 2011 team and, even though he plays a little tackle at times, now is the team’s starting center.
“It was really a tough thing to have to go through,” said Hernandez, who credits his line coach (Walt Walker) with really helping him through the process. “People would remind you about something that you simply did not want to be reminded about. When I heard about Coach Bethune coming in, my brother told me he had played for him and that he would do a good job of getting the program back on track, so I was hopeful.”
But Hernandez said what he had to go through transcended way beyond anything that took place on a football field.
“I believe that as a person, things happen in our lives along the way that challenge us and I knew two years ago I had to ‘man’ up and be a Hawk,” said Hernandez. “I said to myself, ‘This is where I belong and I’m going to see it through,’ and that’s what I did. I feel like I really grew up quick. That this was a test in personal courage and that it had a lot more to do with life’s lessons than football.”
“I’m proud of myself and it has nothing to do with what I’ve done on the field,” said Paladines. “I was told one time that it’s not about how hard you fall, but how you get back up after the fall. I overcame so much adversity that I really feel like I have built my character to the point where I will take this as I move on with my life knowing that no matter what obstacles are thrown at me, I’ll be able to overcome them.”
“Three tremendous kids who did an unbelievable job of sticking through the tough times and are truly able to enjoy the fruits of their hard work,” said Bethune. “Every team needs leaders and kids like Bobby, Armani and Stephen lead the way by the example they have set of overcoming adversity.”
HAWKS FALL TO FERGUSON 28-21
It was almost predictable.
Following emotionally draining victories against Mater Academy and Mourning, followed by qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and preparing for a first-round matchup with St. Thomas Aquanis, one might have figured that the Miami Springs Golden Hawks would have a tough time staying focused when they took on Ferguson at Milander Stadium last week in the regular season finale.
And you would have been right.
The 7-2 Hawks struggled for most of the night against the 4-5 Falcons and wound up giving up a late touchdown pass to drop a 28-21 decision.
The Hawks found themselves trailing 21-7 midway through the fourth quarter but then put together a major rally, scoring a pair of touchdowns, the second a 41-yard pass from Gerald Anderson to Keauntra Floyd with 1:32 left in the game, to tie the game at 21.
But Ferguson put together a quick drive before quarterback Joey Rubio found receiver Andres Saldivar for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds left to give the Falcons the win.
The Hawks now turn their entire focus on the major challenge they will face this week as they travel to Fort Lauderdale Friday night (Nov. 15) to take on defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas, which finished the regular season 8-2.