Miami Belen Jesuit’s football team thrived in the underdog role in recent years.
The Wolverines made the playoffs eight consecutive seasons, and they were a state runner-up in 2009 and upset powerhouses like Miami Booker T. Washington, Miami Northwestern, and Miami Norland to name a few.
That success stalled in 2012, however, when Belen struggled to a 2-7 season a year after earning a playoff berth in one of the state’s toughest districts.
“I can name you a list of things that went wrong,” Belen coach Rich Stuart said. “We had injuries to key players from the start. We had inexperienced players in key spots before they might have been ready. We had games rained out that we needed in order to give those guys that experience. It was tough.”
With an experienced squad back and what many believe was a favorable move to District 15-8A, Belen hopes to find itself back in the playoffs this season.
The Wolverines moved out of District 16-6A in January after the Florida High School Athletic Association made a late adjustment to its bi-annual realignment following appeals.
Belen moved out of a district made up of Rivals.com preseason national No. 1 Miami Central, playoff regulars Northwestern and Norland as well as Miami Carol City and Homestead — each of whom had winning records. The teams in that district went a combined 43-15 last season.
Their new district foes, Southwest Miami, Miami Braddock, Miami Ferguson, Miami Sunset, Miami Varela, finished a combined 19-31 last year.
Southwest (8-2 in 2012) won the district last year and returns junior stars Dre Pickett-White and Trevon Sands figure to have the best chance to battle Belen for a chance to repeat.
Since its formation in 2005, area rivalries and relative parity has made the district (comprised of Kendall or southwest Miami teams) hard to predict. All of its current teams have either won the district title or clinched a playoff berth at one point.
But none have been able to win a playoff game.
Stuart refuses to let his team buy into the belief that their schedule will be “easier.”
“We’re not going to surprise any of those schools with what we do that’s for sure,” Stuart said. “Those schools are all well-coached. They all pretty much run the same offense we do. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
For starters, many of the district’s teams run the same primarily run-based Wing-T offense that Belen has succeeded with for years. Stuart said any success in this new district will depend on his team’s ability to establish that running game.
The anchors will be senior linemen Jonathan Schultz (6-3, 285) and Jack Flood (6-4, 275). Schultz was one of the team’s key injuries early last season that sent the Wolverines into an early tailspin. Those guys will block for an experienced backfield led by returning seniors Daniel Neptune and Christian Barrial and junior Brandon Silvestry.
Seniors Jorge Reyes and Carlos Salazar anchor a young defense up front. Sophomore defensive back Ariel Jimenez played a lot as a freshman, and Stuart believes he could emerge as one of the team’s best defenders for the next couple of years.
“What we learned from our experience playing teams like Northwestern and Central was the need to control the ball and win the turnover battle,” Stuart said. “If we can do those things, we should have success.”