Larry Blustein: South Florida cultivates its top-tier talent at early ages

09/17/2013 12:01 AM

09/17/2013 1:13 AM

When Florida State University football coach Jimbo Fisher was in South Florida on Sept. 6, he spoke about what made this region of the state so special.

As he watched the titanic matchup between Miami’s Booker T. Washington and Miami Central — the top two teams in the country, Fisher fully understood why there are more football players from Miami-Dade and Broward counties who are on NFL roster — by far.

“The athletes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have played together, at a high level, since youth football,” he said. “The competition that is on those youth football fields every Saturday is the beginning of what you see at schools all over this region.”

The youth football programs — from Florida City, Richmond Heights, Goulds, Palmetto Bay and West Kendall — all the way up to inner city powers Gwen Cherry, Liberty City, Northside, Miami Gardens and various programs in Broward, have been the launching pad for some of today’s elite performers.

Marquee athletes such as Central’s Joe Yearby (Gwen Cherry) and Dalvin Cook (Scott Lake), Davie University School’s Sam Bruce (Lauderhill), Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas standout Nick Bosa (Pembroke Pines) and Tyler Ciserow (Lauderdale Lakes) started their climb to the NFL at local youth football hotbeds.

Programs such as North Dade, Lauderdale Lakes Vikings, Pompano Cowboys, Lauderhill Lions, Bunch Park Cowboys, Doral Broncos and the Kendall Kolts have sent high schools an amazing amount of talent.

“What our youth football programs — in our area send to us — really make this program what it is today,” Booker T. Washington coach Tim “Ice” Harris said. “The Overtown team that won that title a few years back [is] well-represented here on this team.”

Programs such as the Richmond Giants became a springboard for current standouts such as Tim Irvin (Miami Westminster Christian), Ermon Lane (Homestead), Tyre Brady (South Dade) and Miami Killian standout junior Jaquan Johnson.

Anywhere you see a successful high school football player, there are going to be youth football coaches behind him — who have pushed hard to get them to that next level.

For longtime youth football coach Travis Thomas, who has guided some tremendous talent at Scott Lake and Miami Gardens, watching former youth standouts get it done at the next level is worth the time and effort put in — five to six days a week during the season.

“When you see a Dionte Mullins [Gulliver Prep] doing what he did in Florida City along with Homestead quarterback Maurice Alexander, it’s so rewarding,” Thomas said. “Kids like Alex Anderson [Miramar] and Steve Ishmael [North Miami Beach] came out of that North Miami Beach Sundevils program.”

Before Miami Champagnat Catholic’s Frank Labady made his commitment to the University of Cincinnati, he was turning heads in Tacolcy. Miami Jackson quarterback Winky Flowers was starting his career in Liberty City — where many including Duke Johnson — began.

No matter if it’s Miami-Dade, where Central linebacker Marquis Couch and Northwestern standout Joseph Robinson starred at Miami Gardens — or Tamarac — where University School standout junior running back Jordan Scarlett started, it’s evident how many have competed at such a high level.

“Top 20 kind of talent such as Trayon Gray [Carol City] was a great athlete for North Dade,” Thomas said. “You also had McArthur’s Kendrell McFadden [Washington Park] and Devin Bush Jr. [Pasadena Lakes] of Flanagan getting an early and competitive jump.”

Look around any football field and you will see former youth standouts playing keys role in high school.

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