When Michael Fredrick told his mother he wanted to leave a crowded backfield at Hallandale High this summer for an opportunity to get on the field more at tiny Champagnat Catholic in Hialeah, she had no problem going along with his decision.
“I just had never heard of the school before,” Teri Fredrick said. “At first, I thought it was [Hollywood] Chaminade. I kept asking him to spell the name of the school for me. When I researched it, and saw it was in like a strip mall, no football field, no weight room, I had my second thoughts about it.”
What ultimately convinced Fredrick’s mother was when she saw Michael had cut his dreadlocks and dressed up in the school’s uniform.
“I said if he’s willing to do something like that he must be serious about football,” she said. “The whole thing has surprised me.”
The Lions (13-0) have stunned many on their way to Friday afternoon’s Class 2A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl against Lakeland Victory Christian (10-3). A year ago, Champagnat was 2-9.
Thanks to the arrival of Fredrick, a 5-11, 175-pound tailback with 4.46 speed, and a few other key transfers as well as 20 returning players from last season, coach Mike Tunsil’s fourth-year football program has quickly ascended despite all the hurdles it had to overcome.
Not only have the Lions lived a nomadic existence (practicing at five different parks over the last four years; often piling players into coaches’ cars to get there), they’ve had to raise all of their own money to sustain the program because they don’t have a home field and do not make much of a profit. The money they did raise for football this season ran out when the regular season ended last month, school athletic director Isabel Alonso said.
Alonso, whose parents founded the small private school in 1968, has been finding creative ways to pay the bills including selling sponsorships. But her most creative maneuver? Winning $2,000 on a lottery scratch off card last week.
“On the bus drive to Tampa [for the state semifinals] we stopped at a gas station and I bought $20 worth of scratch-offs,” Alonso said. “When I got back to the bus I told the kids, ‘Guess what we’ve got a bus ride to Orlando next week.’
“God has really put great things in our path. [Wednesday morning] a team parent [Mildred Aparcio] showed up with exactly the amount of money we needed for the hotel. It’s definitely in God’s plan for us to be there.”
Alonso said she begged her mother for years to start a football program at Champagnat, but she was always against it because she thought it was too rough of a sport. Champagnat did, however, start basketball and baseball 19 years ago. The boys’ basketball team won a state title in 2000. It wasn’t until after her mother passed away in Jan. 2010 that Alonso decided it was the time to start a football program.
“Michael is definitely a perfect example of why we decided to go through with it, and what the vision was from the get-go,” Alonso said. “If the kids can play a sport that they like, can play well and we can give them the structure, discipline and academics attached to it, they can earn a college scholarship and then they have a better chance at life.”
Fredrick, one of three two-way starters for the Lions, has also been the workhorse in the backfield since senior Franklin Labady, a University of Cincinnati commitment, went down with a broken foot a week before the playoffs began. Over his past five games, Fredrick has run for 623 yards and six touchdowns on 62 carries.
No college programs have yet to offer Fredrick a scholarship. But considering eight teammates have multiple offers (four are committed to Division I programs), it might not be long before he gets one. Friday’s big stage should also help.
“It’s really been a dream season come true,” his mother said. “Michael has come a long way since Optimist. He’s always been real quiet. He hands the ball to referee when he scores. I try to be his loud voice out there.”
A bus full of Champagnat fans, students and parents will head north Friday to support the Lions, who will also be wearing new white uniforms courtesy of Fredrick’s stepfather, DeAndre Francis.
He designed the team’s gray uniforms — the only ones they had — at the start of the season. When the Florida High School Athletic Association told Alonso earlier this week the Lions needed wear white jerseys for Friday’s game she panicked and called Francis. Little did she know he was already designing white uniforms as a surprise pregame gift.
“Win or lose,” Alonso said, “this is where we’re supposed to be right now.”