Hialeah American coach Corey Bell is no stranger to success in high school football.
Coaching Miami Edison from 1997 to 2006, he once reeled off five consecutive playoff appearances, three consecutive district titles and in 2003 led the Red Raiders to a No. 1 ranking in Miami-Dade County.
So it’s no surprise that after just one season with the Patriots, American already appears headed in the right direction.
The Patriots finished 6-5 and atop District 16-7A in 2011. It was their first district title since 2002, which gives the Patriots optimism for 2012, but they still have an uphill climb to achieve their next goal: win their first playoff game since 1997.
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Before they can do that, American, which returns five starters on offense and only three on defense, will have to prove it can repeat in its district and deal with challenges from Miami Goleman and Miami Beach.
Bell is not taking any upcoming challenges lightly.
“Right now we’re on the outside trying to get in on the inside,” said Bell, who enters his second year at American after being director of football operations at UM under former Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon. “We have to play with an attitude. We have to come out and play fast and hard and not take anyone for granted.
“We are nowhere close to being able to take anyone for granted.”
To ensure that doesn’t happen, Bell depends on the leadership of senior wide receiver Jawill Davis, who talks to teammates before and after practices to keep them motivated.
“My mind-set is to be very disciplined, stay focused, come in this season and work hard, not slack around and execute on plays,” said Davis, who is the No. 1 receiver with the departure of Ricky Gutierrez, now with Connecticut. “We know that got us to districts last year to be district champs, and we want to go even further this year.”
Davis impressed Bell so much that Bell went as far as calling him one of the best players he has seen going back to his Edison days.
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” Bell said. “He’s got good speed, deceptive speed, great hands, great leaping ability.”
Trying to get Davis the ball will be sophomore quarterback Romy Gonzalez, who started as a freshman on last year’s district-winning team.
“Romy, he’s a great quarterback. He’s a great friend of mine,” Davis said. “He has a strong arm, he’s vocal, he can make any throw on the field. He’s going to be great for this school for the next three years.”
Bell believes that to avoid a sophomore slump, he needs his running backs behind Gonzalez to be effective.
“He’s been steady, he’s been working hard and, of course, I think our running game will take some of the pressure off him,” Bell said. “He’s still a young guy and still feeling his way through this thing, so it’s a continuous process for him.”
American has a solid one-two punch in the backfield with a pair of seniors — Kevin Pollock and Marsean Hunter.
Pollock is the more powerful runner but also displays elusiveness, and Hunter will be used as more of the scatback. Bell would ideally like to get both of them “15 to 17” touches a game and get a feel for which one is hot at any given point in time.
“They complement each other well,” Bell said. “The good thing about it is they get along well. Both of them will be seniors. They don’t have a problem with whoever’s getting the ball. They just want to get it done.”
The Patriots defense, which lost star cornerback Larry Hope to graduation, will be spearheaded by senior Jason Smith. Smith is a 6-2, 210-pound linebacker who will be counted on to shut down the running game of opponents.