When spring practice opens on Thursday and Plantation American Heritage takes its first step toward defending its Class 5A state title, it will do so without Sony Michel, who carried Patriots football for much of the past couple years.
Michel, a powerfully built running back, was at the Heritage campus on Monday, doing conditioning drills. But soon, the five-star recruit will depart for the University of Georgia.
How Heritage coach Mike Rumph replaces Michel will go a long way toward deciding the Patriots’ fate this fall.
“One difference between this spring and last is that we will have more competition,” said Rumph, who graduates 23 seniors, including seven starters on each side of the ball.”
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Rumph said senior Travis Jackson and sophomore Sheddrick Loarwy, a transfer from Hollywood Hills, will compete at running back. But the coach also likes sophomore Keyshawn Bryant, who he said “scored almost 75 percent of the times he touched the ball” on the junior varsity last season.
The quarterback is senior Torrance Gibson, a 6-4, 195-pound lefty who is the fastest player on the team and the most highly recruited player on offense.
Heritage (15-1 last year), which runs a spread offense with four wide receivers and a single back, achieved run-pass balance during the 2013 regular season.
But once the playoffs began, Rumph found himself calling Michel’s number about 75 percent of the time.
With Michel graduated, Heritage may look to throw more to 6-4 junior Brandon Johnson, who caught six touchdown passes last season and has emerged as a respected recruit at wide receiver.
Other wideouts to watch are junior Dredrick Snelson, senior Janarveus Pugh, who started at quarterback for MacArthur last season, and Marc Kazdan, a 6-3, 240-pound senior who is a tight end/receiver hybrid.
The defense is led by Tarvarus McFadden, a 6-3 cornerback who is the team’s No. 1 overall recruit. Defensive back Christian Irving, a senior, is one of seven Heritage transfers from University School, and he is expected to contribute immediately.
Key West dropped out of Heritage’s district, leaving just two other opponents, Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons and Miami Jackson, both of which will graduate their starting quarterbacks this spring.
Then again, winning district is just Heritage’s first goal. Rumph has put together a brutal schedule that he hopes prepares the Patriots for another championship run.
The schedule includes West Palm Beach Dwyer, Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (at Sun Life Stadium), at Miramar, at Daytona Mainland, at Jacksonville Bolles, at Apopka, at Delray Heritage and home for Lakeland Kathleen.
“Got to make it tough,” Rumph said with a laugh. “When the playoffs come, my players won’t flinch because we’ve already played the toughest schedule in the country.”