ORLANDO -- With four minutes 55 seconds to go in the third quarter Friday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl, Plantation American Heritage coach Mike Rumph called a timeout to help set the stage for Sony Michel’s sendoff.
Broward County’s second all-time leading rusher removed his helmet and jogged off the field to a standing ovation from the Patriots faithful, who serenaded him with chants of “So-ny! So-ny!”
After carrying a heavy workload and not advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs in his first four years at Heritage, Michel capped a historic career with one of his easiest days in a Patriots uniform.
Florida’s Gatorade Player of the Year finished with 13 carries, 98 yards and three rushing touchdowns as Heritage blew past an overmatched Green Cove Springs Clay 66-8 in the Class 5A state championship.
“We all work within a team concept, but there are certain players that transcend the program and take programs to other levels,” Patriots offensive coordinator Mario Perez said. “Sony Michel has been that guy for American Heritage the last five years.”
Although Heritage has won more than 30 state championships in other sports such as baseball, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis and track (including a track title Michel was a part of in 2012), the football program didn’t win its first title until Friday.
In a lot of ways, Michel was the player who made those around Heritage’s athletic program believe winning a football title was actually within reach.
“He put the program on the map and is a big reason we’ve got all these kids here right now,” said receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who scored three touchdowns himself Friday — on a 4-yard rush, a 49-yard catch and run and a 65-yard punt return. “He’s helped me in so many ways in life and on the field. I came here four years ago to help him.”
Ely’s Tyrone Moss remains Broward’s all-time leading rusher with 7,105 yards on 850 attempts. But had Michel not torn his ACL before the start of his sophomore season, it’s likely he would have zoomed past Moss and even higher up the state record book.
As it stands, Michel finished his senior season with 1,840 yards and 24 touchdowns on 214 carries. His career numbers: 6,659 yards and 81 touchdowns on 820 carries.
“If it wasn’t for Sony Michel, we wouldn’t be here today,” Rumph said. “He’s a guy who is selfless. It’s always about the team. All throughout the year he was getting 12 to 14 carries a game, and he never complained one time. When the playoffs came, we gave him 22 to 24 carries and he stepped it up for us. He’s been the man since the eighth grade. We wanted to dedicate this day to Sony Michel.”
Michel, who reiterated Friday he’s definitely headed to the University of Georgia next fall, called the ovation he got from his teammates, coaches and the Heritage faithful “awesome.”
“It meant a lot,” said Michel, who after standing on the team’s bench to acknowledge the crowd, walked over to the stands and handed his gloves to two junior high football players at Heritage who look up to him.
“I had a lot of emotions, some flashbacks while it was going on. It’s hard to believe that was my final game in high school football.”
Michel has one high school game left. He will play in the U.S. Army All-American Game on Jan. 4 in San Antonio. He said he might also run track in the spring, competing in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, as well as the 400-meter relay team.
“All these years, now it’s time to celebrate,” Michel said. “State champs! I like the sound of that.”