Flag football, which became an FHSAA-sanctioned sport in 2003 with 92 schools participating throughout the state, continues to grow.
The girls’ sport has added new schools every year since.
This year, Florida boasts nearly 250 flag football teams — including 197 playing for the one-class state title.
There are also 38 schools, including six in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, playing as independents and not competing for the state championship.
Flag football is popular in Broward, with 34 schools competing for state. But there are only eight Dade teams competing for the trophy — and none are from the public-school system.
That will change next year, according to coaches as well as Greater Miami Athletic Conference officials.
“It was introduced this year to [Dade public] middle schools,” Mater Academy coach Luis Sanchez said. “Next year, the same thing will happen for [Dade] public high schools. That will mean about 30 new schools picking up the sport.”
In addition to more teams playing flag, there are also more athletes showing an interest in the sport at schools that already have programs.
Sanchez said Mater Academy had a school-record 40 girls try out for flag football this season.
“The sport has taken off in terms of number of schools but also the level of competition,” he said. “At first, a lot of girls just thought of the sport as something fun to do.
“Now, there is a lot more attention to technique and tactics.”
Tampa Robinson won the 2014 state title, going 5-0 in the playoffs and allowing a combined total of just six points in those games. The Knights knocked off two-time defending state champ Seminole Ridge 7-6 in the title game.
Archbishop McCarthy got further than any other Dade or Broward team last season, losing in the state quarterfinals 25-12 to Delray Beach Atlantic.
Mater Academy lost in the Round of 16, falling 20-14 to McCarthy.
Junior wide receiver/defensive back Emily Acosta leads the way for Mater. She is the Lions’ team captain, the 2014 Miami-Dade County Player of the Year and a stellar all-around athlete who also plays basketball and competes in track and cross-country.
Getting her the ball this year will be sophomore quarterback Angelica Gutierrez, who did not play flag last season.
“She’s very fast, has great moves and gets rid of the ball quickly,” Sanchez said. “And she’s like a sponge [in terms of learning the game].”
Another Dade challenger is Monsignor Pace, which is led by senior quarterback Sabrina Cabrera, the 2013 Miami-Dade Player of the Year. Cabrera’s 2014 year was lost when she broke her collarbone in a freak practice injury one week before the season started.
The previous year, she accounted for 60-plus touchdowns, running and throwing.
“She’s 100 percent now,” Pace coach John M. Rodriguez said. “The injury was to her non-throwing shoulder.”
In addition to McCarthy and Miramar, a Broward team to watch is Everglades, led by All-County senior running back/safety Bricelis Jimenez.
Everglades, seeking its third consecutive district title, also brings back senior wide receiver/safety Amare Stewart, who led the team with 12 touchdowns, and junior rusher Karima Harris.
Steve Bounoutas, the Everglades coach, has strengthened his schedule this year. On April 8, Everglades will host Seminole Ridge, which is 38-1 over the past three years.
“I want to see,” Bounoutas said, “what it’s like at that level.”
District playoffs: April 27-29.
State play-in games: May 2-5.
State quarterfinals: May 8 in Tallahassee.
State semifinals and final: May 9 in Tallahassee.
2014 STATE CHAMPION
PAST DADE/BROWARD STATE CHAMPS
Fort Lauderdale (2003)
PRESEASON TOP FIVE TEAMS
1. Archbishop McCarthy
2. Mater Academy
3. Monsignor Pace
NOTE: For complete team-by-team outlooks, please visit our High School Sports page at www.miamiherald.com/sports.
BOYD ANDERSON: Coach: Lovell T. Braswell Jr. Last year: 8-3; Top players: Kenya Lindo (sr. QB/S); Jamie Stitt (sr. Rusher); Zakendria Matthews (sr. WR/DB); Noteworthy: Lindo fired 19 TD passes last season and has some speedy targets.
COOPER CITY: Coach: Cary Altschuler; Last year: 0-10; Top players: Grayson Curtiss (sr. WR/S); Mayce Ingram (sr. LB); Noel Rihl (jr. rusher); Noteworthy: QB Cassandra DeVito, who started as a freshman and missed last season due to a broken collarbone, is back.
CYPRESS BAY: Coach: Steve Leland; Last year: NA; Top players: Mary Burbridge (sr. WR); Brianna Buckley (jr. WR/S); Therelee Mampelas (so. QB); Noteworthy: Defense could be the strength of the team.
EVERGLADES: Coach: Steve Bounoutas; Last year: 13-1, district champs; Top players: Bricelis Jimenez (sr. RB/S); Amare Stewart (sr. WR/S); Karima Harris (jr. Rusher); Noteworthy: Everglades’ defense has not allowed a regular-season point in two years.
HEBREW ACADEMY: Coach; Rob Erickson; Last year; 8-3; Top players: Florencia Chami (so. WR/DB); Sarina Abramowitz (so. QB); Noteworthy: Team is pinning its hopes on Abramowitz-to-Chami combination.
HOLLYWOOD HILLS: Coach: Brandon Graham; Last year: 10-4, district runner-up; Top players: Kyra Hill (sr. WR/DB); Dimitria Cleare (sr. RB/LB); Eliana Martinez (jr. QB); Noteworthy: Hill had 115 catches for 1,268 yards and 5 TDs last year.
MATER ACADEMY: Coach: Luis Sanchez; Last year: 13-2; Top players: Emily Acosta (jr. WR/DB); Solamy Galvez (sr. WR/DB); Mercy Gonzalez (fr. TE/LB); Noteworthy: Last year’s team won its district and lost in the second round of the state playoffs.
MONSIGNOR PACE: Coach: John M. Rodriguez; Last year: 10-2; Top players: Sabrina Cabrera (sr. QB); Destiny Wilson (jr. WR/DB); Tamara Smalls (sr. LB); Noteworthy: Coach Rodriguez said defense will be his team’s key.
SOUTH PLANTATION: Coach: Nick Dellaria; Last year: 6-6; Top players: Keraliah Christopher (jr. QB); Veronica Kennedy (jr. C/S); Madison Sjogreen (fr. WR); Noteworthy: Christopher enters her third season as the starting QB.
STRANAHAN: Coach: Keidran Willis; Last season: 8-5, district runner-up; Top players: Amanda Hesler (jr. WR/S); Elisha Joseph (RB/LB); Aliesha Daise (sr. WR/S); Noteworthy: Coach Willis said this should be her best team, heaping praise on Hesler.
WESTERN: Coach: James O’Brien; Last season: 5-6; Top players: Christy Szeto (sr. WR/QB/CB); Elisa Morejon (so. QB/WR); Sandi Slater (so. C); Noteworthy: Szeto is the leader – she had 40 catches and 8 TDs last year.