Nuanu Westminster Christian held football practice on Thanksgiving morning for the first time in nearly three decades Thursday.
But instead of the sounds of players clashing pads and helmets, for the most part the Warriors stood in a circle and talked.
“Everybody got together and we asked them to talk about what they’re most thankful for,” Westminster Christian coach Sedrick Irvin said. “They all talked about the brotherhood on this team. I’m not a teary guy and I’d like to think I’m a tough guy, but that almost got me.”
Three years after becoming the Warriors’ coach, Irvin has watched his team develop into one of the state’s best.
Westminster Christian (10-1) takes on Clearwater Central Catholic (10-2) Friday at 7:30 p.m. in a Class 3A state semifinal at Harris Field — the Warriors’ first advancement to the final four since 1985.
“One thing I learned from playing for and coaching with Nick Saban was the importance of the word process,” Irvin said. “By your third year, you see the results of your hard work with a program. We’ve been chopping wood slowly but surely and we’ve just told these kids just keep faith in what you’re doing.”
Irvin, a former running back at Southridge and Miami High and prep All-American, said effort has been a huge reason his roster of roughly 30-35 players — often undersized at certain positions — is one victory away from making it to the state championship round for the first time since 1973.
Westminster Christian, still a predominately young team with only six seniors, has its share playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Juniors Jordan Cronkrite (1,281 yards and 15 TDs — the leader among Dade players in Classes 5A-2A), Tim Irvin (690 yards rushing, 6 TDs; 451 yards receiving, 5 TDs), Devonaire Clarington (736 yards receiving, 8 TDs) and Roshaad Broadway (119 tackles) are leading or among the leaders in the county in several categories.
Senior quarterback Hunter Boyett leads the county in passing yardage with 2,379 and has thrown 25 touchdown passes with only five interceptions on 128 of 185 attempts.
Sophomores Elbre Gaiter and Tobias Moss have also contributed both as receivers and defensive backs.
“Outside of [Joe] Yearby and [Dalvin] Cook at Central, no one is running the ball like Cronkrite right now,” Irvin said. “I rate him on his vision, pad level, burst, technique, assignment and playmaking. That kid is going to be one of the best in the country.
“[Clarington] has learned structure this season. He told me he was a selfish guy before. Now, I’m still learning and he’s bought into the program mentality. Tim [Irvin] is one of the best athletes in the past six years to come out of here. He used to cry and get ticked off when he’d do things wrong. Now, he gets it. He realizes his potential.
“And as far as efficiency, Hunter has been one of the best all season.”
Irvin, however, credits a few of his undersized players on the offensive line and on defense such as 5-6, 155-pound sophomore linebacker Jimmy Armstrong, 5-6, 160-pound guard Andre Wennin and 5-5, 145-pound center Jon Jon Pedrayes for making the difference in close games during the team’s nine-game winning streak.
“One thing you can’t measure on this team is effort,” Irvin said. “A lot of guys on this team pass the eyeball test. But there are a few guys that would have offers from all sorts of BCS schools if you based it on effort instead of their size.”
Cronkrite overcame a left ankle sprain suffered in the Warriors’ first round win against Pahokee and played a big role in the team’s 55-48 win last week against West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman rushing for 161 yards and two touchdowns. Overcoming adversity is not a new thing for Cronkrite, who missed four games last season with a blood contusion in his knee, or Boyett, who broke his collarbone last season as well.
“One thing that’s been pretty stable on this team is the bond we’ve had as a team,” Boyett said. “This has been a dream season, but we’re not done. We want to make it to the Citrus Bowl.”