Coming off a historic season a year ago that saw them make the state playoffs for the first time in 18 years, one might think that the bar would be set even higher and expectations even more exciting for the Miami Springs Golden Hawks football team.
But, as the 2014 season sits on the horizon with their regular season opener against Hialeah set for this Thursday night, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at Milander Stadium, a game Springs would dearly love to avenge after last year’s 32-0 loss, things aren’t nearly as rosy as one might think.
Head coach Darryel Bethune has had to deal with not only major losses to his roster from graduating seniors, but losing his top three players, Shawn Lee, Malik Adelson and Michael Lowe who transferred out to the usual suspects, Central and Northwestern.
“We lost some really key players, in Malik, Shawn and Michael, especially Malik as he was going to be the central focus of our team,” said Bethune. “Yes, it’s very frustrating where you bring kids along, develop them and then they leave – actually not leave but simply be taken by other schools that see the talent that we develop. But it’s all okay, I’ve got a good staff and we’ll try and find a way to get it done.”
And “trying to find a way” began last week when the Hawks hosted North Miami Beach in a Kickoff Classic at Springs High School.
After jumping out to a 6-0 second quarter lead, Springs struggled terribly on offense the rest of the afternoon and ultimately the defense, which actually played pretty well and hung tough having been out on the field for long periods of time in searing afternoon temperatures, gave up a pair of touchdowns as NMB prevailed by a 14-6 final.
How rough was it on offense? Try 46 total yards for the game. Worse, 52 yards came on a late-game bomb from quarterback Gerald Anderson to Jahwon Grant which means, doing simple math, minus 6 yards of offense other than that play.
“Offensively it was obviously a real struggle today and to be honest, we missed Gerald’s (Anderson’s) best target, Johnny Rembert,” said Bethune referring to Springs’ top receiver and kick and punt returner from last season. “We had some paperwork issues with him that we had to work out but he’ll be ready for Hialeah on Thursday.”
What had Bethune pulling whatever hair sits on top of his head out was the bushel full of penalties his team wracked up. The final tally was 15 for 105 yards but that didn’t include the five or six that NMB declined.
“No doubt that was probably the difference in the game,” said Bethune. “Unacceptable and that will have to get cleaned up quickly. That’s why we like to play this one preseason game so you can see your kids in live game action and work to get things corrected.”
The defensive coaches will need to work double-time with their defensive line, especially senior defensive end Isrick McDonald.
Nine of the 15 penalties were off sides from a defensive line that obviously struggled with NMB’s cadence and McDonald, who came over from defending 2A state champion Hialeah Champagnat, was responsible for five of those.
“He’s a stud, a great player but obviously he was extremely anxious to make plays today and a little out of control,” said Bethune. “He’ll be okay, we’ll work with him and get things under control and really looking forward to him playing a big role for us defensively this season.”
No kidding. At 6-4, 220 pounds, McDonald looks like he’s chiseled out of granite and is already fending off inquiries from extremely interested college scouts.
And for everything that went wrong for Springs on this day and as awful as it was on offense, the Hawks easily could’ve emerged a 6-0 winner as both NMB touchdowns, one just before halftime and the second late in the third quarter, came gift-wrapped by the Hawks defense.
First came a fourth down defensive stop by the Hawks three minutes before halftime after NMB had driven inside their 10.
But a crucial mistake by linebacker Isiah McDonald, yes Isrick’s younger brother who by the way is only a freshman and checks in at an eyepopping 6-5, 215 lbs., occurred when he roughed NMB quarterback Cedric Wiggins, giving the Chargers a new set of downs at the four where they eventually scored to tie the game at six.
When NMB, thanks to a Springs turnover and subsequent short field, drove inside the Springs 10, linebacker Richard Gainous had a “gift” interception off a tipped pass go right through his hands. On the very next play, a fourth-and-goal from the nine, Wiggins rolled out to his right and, with Isrick McDonald a half-second from clobbering him from behind, just got rid of the ball and found Fritz Merus in the back of the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score.
“Yeah, I guess when you look at it, if we make those couple of plays, as bad as it was, we still might’ve won this game today,” said Bethune. “Today was a measuring stick and we were reminded that we’re a pretty young team at a lot of positions and a lot of first year players out there, especially on the offensive line where we struggled the most. The one thing I learned that I liked is that I think we’ve got a little toughness. I was pretty pleased and proud of the defense. They were on the field for a long time and it was really hot out there and I thought they held up real well and kept us in the game for as long as they could.”