Monsignor Pace looks to build on historic flag football season

03/11/2014 12:01 AM

03/11/2014 12:24 AM

From a devastating injury to a historic “Midnight Madness” practice, the flag football preseason in Miami-Dade and Broward counties has been noteworthy.

The injury occurred at a Monsignor Pace practice, where star quarterback Sabrina Cabrera, who passed for a school-record 65 touchdowns last season, tripped and fell, breaking her collarbone.

She is likely out for the season.

“Nobody is happy about it,” Pace coach John M. Rodriguez said. “Sabrina is a great quarterback with speed and an accurate and strong arm. She’s also a team captain and leader. Losing her shocked and saddened the team.”

Yasbec Sosa, a senior wide receiver, will now shift to quarterback. Rodriguez said Sosa has a “good arm” and is not intimidated by the situation because she is an experienced athlete, mostly as a soccer player.

“We will go as far as [Sosa] takes us,” Rodriguez said. “Our girls are resilient.”

Pace is coming off a historic 18-1 season in which they became the first Dade team to reach the state semifinals, losing 21-6 in rainy conditions to Seminole Ridge, which has won three of the past four championships, including the past two in a row.

Flag football is much bigger in the rest of the state than it is in Dade, where only six teams participate — Pace, Mater Academy, Hebrew Academy and three charter schools.

In contrast, flag football is played at 35 Broward schools, including Hollywood Hills, where coach Brandon Graham had the idea this year to start his first practice at midnight.

The FHSAA rules read that teams may not practice before 12:00 a.m. on Feb. 17, and Graham, in his 11th year as Hills’ coach, decided to use that time frame literally.

“We’re the first one in Broward to ever do this, and, as far as I know, no one in the state has ever done it before us,” Graham said of the midnight practice.

The coach said he had tremendous support from school administrators. In fact, the Hills assistant principal showed up for the practice, which lasted until 1:45 a.m.

Graham worked on the plan for a month, making sure everything was done right. The practice was held on a Sunday night/Monday morning, and there was no school on Monday because of the Presidents Day holiday, which made the timing perfect.

About two weeks before the practice, he told the 25 girls on the team what he had in store for them.

“About a quarter of them thought I was crazy,” Graham said. “But they saw I was serious, and they got even more excited than I was.”

Graham invited the players’ families and friends to the practice, and he saw smiles everywhere he looked during that first night.

The girls wore bright neon-orange shirts that read: “We practiced for two hours, we caught passes, and we ran sprints. What were you doing at 12 a.m.?”

Graham, whose team finished 9-4 last season, is hoping Hills can advance to Tallahassee for the state finals May 9-10, although no Broward team has won the title since Miramar in 2006.

But even if Hills falls short of its goal, at least they will have had fun.

“Trophies collect dust,” Graham said. “Memories last forever.”

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