Lakatriona Brunson was the first person to emerge from the locker room, the first to start high-fiving players pregame as they ran toward the field and the first to greet Miami Jackson running back Terrell Thomas with some love after he scored the first touchdown of the season.
There were quite a few firsts Thursday night at North Miami Stadium — most notably Brunson, 39, becoming the first woman in state history to coach a high school football game. She also earned her first win as the Generals rolled to a 36-0 preseason blowout of Coral Reef High.
“I feel good about how the kids responded tonight,” said Brunson, who before becoming Jackson’s coach in February was known mostly for her role as Bernice, the ill-tempered tow-truck driver on the docudrama South Beach Tow.
“Once we gave them that little pep talk at halftime they came out on fire. It’s just the beginning. We’ve got room to grow. Just watch us. For all the naysayers, it’s not me, it’s the kids. They’re working for me.”
A physical education teacher for the last 16 years and a former player for the Miami Fury, a team that played in the Independent Women’s Football League, Brunson wasn’t calling plays or getting in the face of her players.
Assistant head coach Luther Campbell — the former 2 Live Crew rapper andlongtime high school assistant with a state championship on his résumé – did most of that. But Brunson was right there, clapping, critiquing, cheering on and coaching her players.
Once Campbell, 55, was done giving the team an earful at halftime, Brunson, stepped in and reminded the special teams units to be prepared before running on the field and told the offense to “step it up.” The Generals were leading just 8-0 at the break.
“You’ve got one sack, but you should have about five,” Brunson told 6-4, 252-pound junior defensive tackle Devontae McCrare. “You’re not lining up right. You should be shading over and exploding past the guy in front of you.”
Jackson principal Carlos Rios stood on the sideline and watched every play. Not once since he named Brunson coach back in February has he regretted the decision, he says.
“We knew what we were getting in her,” said Rios, who said he and six other school members at Jackson selected Brunson to be coach from a long list of candidates. “We understood what was coming with it. But it really was an easy decision. It wasn’t that hard at all.”
Reva Brown, Brunson’s mother, watched from the stands with a big smile on her face. Brunson, whom she calls KK, once played at North Miami Stadium for the Fury with her younger sister, Laquinta Brunson. They were three years apart.
Laquinta Brunson was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in 2005, Brown said. Everywhere she goes, Brunson wears a diamond-studded cross that belonged to her sister, and she had it on her Thursday.
“She’s definitely making her sister proud,” Brown said. “If she was here, Laquinta for sure would be out there with her today, coaching. Whatever Lakatriona did her sister wanted to do it.”
Seeing her daughter make history, Brown said, isn’t surprising. Brunson, a former track and basketball star at Miami Northwestern High and Tennessee State University, used to keep the boys in line in school when she was a kid. Doing it as an adult, her mother said, is easier.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man,” said Brown, a transit bus driver in Miami who like her daughter was a track athlete in high school at Northwestern. “If you can do it, you can do it.”
Thursday’s game won’t officially count in the record book because it was a preseason game. But the next one — next Friday versus Class 8A state semifinalist Miami Columbus — will.
Jackson’s schedule features six playoff teams from a year ago, including nationally-ranked American Heritage (No. 11 according to MaxPreps) and five-time state champions Booker T. Washington (No. 34) and Miami Central (No. 16).
Right now, though, the Generals will savor Thursday’s victory all the same. Jackson was 3-6 last season, and any win is a good win.
“People think we aren’t going to make it, she isn’t going to push us hard enough or whatever,” said receiver Keiron Broussard, one of 14 seniors on the roster.
“She’s like any other coach, maybe tougher. She’s like a mother, pushes us to give it our all. It’s great being able to get her that first win.”