ORLANDO -- Former Miami Central quarterback Jeff Godfrey stopped by his alma mater’s practice this week to a hero’s welcome.
It was fitting considering Godfrey, now a senior wide receiver at BCS-bowl bound UCF, helped begin the turnaround for the Rockets, who five years ago went from being a step behind rival Miami Northwestern to a perennial state champion.
Central can stand alone in the Miami-Dade County history books if it can beat Seffner Armwood in the Class 6A state championship Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in the Citrus Bowl.
The Rockets (13-1), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today and already the first Dade team to advance to state four consecutive seasons, can become the first to win three state championships in a four-year span.
Central can also join Coral Gables, Northwestern, Miami Carol City and Miami Booker T. Washington as the only county schools to win three or more state titles in the playoff era (began in 1963).
“Even when I was [coaching] at Northwestern, we always respected Central and knew the talented players they had at the school,” Central coach Roland Smith said. “We always thought if they ever got the right coach to bring it all together, something like this could happen. It’s a credit to [former] coach Telly Lockette and the job he did here.”
Smith fit right in on a team that has won 12 consecutive games since a loss to Booker T. Washington, and will now get a chance to avenge its only defeat during its potential state championship dynasty.
Armwood defeated Central in the 2011 Class 6A final capping a controversy-filled season that ended with both teams forfeiting their victories after the use of ineligible players.
The Rockets have since regrouped and are within one victory of becoming the fifth Dade school to win back-to-back state titles.
“My goal this year was to not disrupt the continuity of this program,” Smith said. “We had some injuries to key players but our coaching staff did a great job preparing our younger kids to step in and keep us going.”
Star running backs Dalvin Cook and Joe Yearby have been at the heart of Central’s championship run the past three seasons.
Yearby will watch the state final from the sideline two weeks after suffering a fractured fibula that ended his senior season in the regional final against Palm Bay Heritage.
The Rockets have drawn inspiration from Yearby since, responding last week with a 28-15 victory against Daytona Beach Mainland. Cook wore Yearby’s No. 3 jersey as he helped Central show it can stop be a formidable team.
“We know they [Central] are extremely talented and that’s a little overwhelming for this group [because of our youth],” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said. “We’re going to have to do a great job protecting the football.”
Armwood (14-0) is making its fourth appearance at the state finals and reached Orlando with one of its younger teams in recent years.
The Hawks have only seven combined senior starters.
Smith believes the key to the game will be Central’s ability to dominate up front especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“We’re still going to do what we do and run the things we’ve been running, but obviously when you lose Joseph Yearby it’s tough,” Smith said. “We always feel we have a chance with our front line.”
Central’s senior starting offensive line of left tackle Reginald Bain, left guard Joshua Addison, center Raul Diaz, right guard Michael Smith and right tackle Trevor Darling have rarely been challenged this season although Smith believes they will have to come up with a better effort than last week.
Central ran for only 84 yards against Mainland.
Central’s defense will have to contend with an Armwood offense averaging 39.75 points per game in the playoffs.
The Rockets have been able to create havoc with their pass rush as Carlin Clark (18), Fred Jones (15), Fermin Silva (15) and Marquis Couch (11) all have double-digit sacks this season.
Clark injured his knee in the regional semifinals against Fort Lauderdale Dillard.
Central’s secondary has thrived as a result led by junior Olin Cushion (five interceptions).