Before its Class 2A state final championship loss to Jacksonville University Christian last season, Miami Dade Christian was the only undefeated school remaining in Miami-Dade and Broward County.
Not bad for a team that started the season with only 33 players and fielded only 25 of them in the biggest game in school history because of mounting injuries.
The Crusaders won 13 games en route to the state title game behind the maturity of its senior-laden team. With 16 seniors, Dade Christian depended on its experience to work through the adversity, adapt to playing in new positions when injuries arose and stay fresh through shorter and modified practices.
“We managed to stay healthy long enough to get there, but in the end, it caught up to us,” coach Mike Sonneborn said Wednesday. “We were just too beat up to play at full force.”
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In order to better last season’s success, the Crusaders will have to grow up quickly.
Sonneborn expects 36 to 38 players to play this season, but his senior class only accounts from eight of those spots. Replacing two-way senior players like Gary Sampson, Terrence Alls, Danny Nunez, Aaron Batten and Kelvin Acosta won’t be easy, but Sonneborn believes his next crop of standouts is ready for the challenge.
Sonneborn said running back Mariel “Ike” Steadman will be a “20-carry-a-game guy for us. If he has a good year, we’re going to have a good year.”
Sonneborn also expects big contributions from linebackers Victor Young and Michael Shiver, linemen Alex and Mike Perrera, and defensive tackles Issac Price and Dennis Jackson.
Despite the youth and the inability to replicate last season’s adversity while preparing for this season, Sonneborn said his players have been able to practice more efficiently because of their success.
“Anytime you go to the state championship, every year from now on is measured off of [if] you go back to the state championship. Our goal is to get back,” he said. “A lot of our guys look at it as if we don’t get back, we fell short or the season wasn’t as successful as it should’ve been.”
Dade Christian opens its season on Aug. 30 on the road against North Broward Prep, with other nondistrict opponents including Miami Gulliver Prep, Pembroke Pines Somerset Academy, Clewiston, Opa-locka Monsignor Pace and Westland Hialeah.
While District 8-2A foes Florida City Barrington Christian, Coral Springs Christian and Pompano Beach Highlands Christian stand in the way, the Crusaders are looking forward to playing Hialeah Champagnat Catholic at home on Sept. 20.
Champagnat seems to be the favorite after adding transfers Travonte Valentine, a University of Miami defensive line oral commit, and Frank Labady, a Cincinnati oral commit who will play receiver for the Lions.
For Sonneborn, Champagnat is just another obstacle in the way.
“There’s no secret Champagnat added some talent to their football team,” Sonneborn said. “I hope it bothers our guys a little bit that they’ve been sort of anointed the district championship, and we’re just kind [of] taking a back seat this year.
“I just hope our guys see it, and I hope it kind [of] aggravates them a little bit. But at the end of the day, when game week comes, they’ll be dialed in and ready for that game.”