ORLANDO -- Nate Hudson has a special appreciation for what South Dade’s football team has accomplished this season.
Hudson’s father, Nathaniel, coached at the school for 19 years, and his four brothers each played football for the Bucs.
So when a first trip to the state finals became a reality last week, the school’s second-year football coach took a moment to celebrate with the entire South Dade family.
“When we were finishing the [state semifinal] game against Palm Beach Gardens, my dad came right to the sideline and gave me a hug,” Hudson said. “Then he told me my mom was in the stands. Things got emotional. They ran down on the field and so did all those fans and started celebrating.”
South Dade, a 61-year-old school located near Homestead, will try to win its first state football championship Saturday night when it takes on defending Class 8A champion Apopka at 7 p.m. in the Citrus Bowl.
The Bucs (13-1), who had not made it past the regional final round before this season, realize they are one victory away from a major feat for their community.
“Playing at state is a dream come true,” Hudson said. “It’s something we talked about in the offseason. We wanted to make a statement this season. We know the work isn’t done yet, but it’s definitely a dream come true.”
Hudson took over a program that had missed the playoffs the previous season and has guided it to a 23-3 record.
His father, who retired in 2011, attends every game, and his brothers, Eric and Jerel, are on the coaching staff with him.
But Hudson was the only one of his brothers not to play football at South Dade.
Hudson’s father served in the military for 26 years and was stationed in Germany during Hudson’s teenage years. As a result, Hudson graduated from Ramstein High in Germany, where he played football and eventually earned a chance to play at Bethune-Cookman.
Hudson first coached at South Dade as a defensive backs coach under former longtime coach Don Drinkhahn. Hudson said he keeps in contact with Drinkhahn and has found himself often following some of the same customs he learned from him, one of which includes making sure his players make their way home from practice.
“When I first started, a few of the kids asked me for rides home,” Hudson said. “I realized after two weeks I was driving the kids home the same way Coach Drinkhahn used to in his van. He told me once when he was still coaching that I had the chance to do something special here at South Dade.”
For the Bucs to make their 2013 ending special, they will have to overcome one of the most potent and different offenses in the country.
Apopka is averaging 51.7 points per game — implementing a more run-based single-wing offense that has befuddled nearly every team the Blue Darters have faced this season. The change came following the loss of star quarterback Zack Darlington, who sustained a concussion at the start of the season.
“My brothers and I watched that old movie about Knute Rockne a while back where they run that type of offense,” Hudson said. “It’s interesting because it reminds me of this type of offense. Obviously, they’ve done a great job of perfecting and modernizing that system.
“They’re very well-disciplined. It’s a different animal than what we’ve faced. We have to make sure we’re disciplined reading our keys.”
South Dade’s defense has created 27 turnovers this season, something Hudson credits largely for its success in close games.
“They’re a big team, and we understand that,” Hudson said. “But at the same time, we have to keep our guys focused and take [Apopka] out of their comfort zone.”