The bitter winter cold never stopped Pat Surtain Jr. from studying his dad’s moves and wanting to play football.
As an All-Pro defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs in the days following a stellar career with the Miami Dolphins, Surtain Sr. began teaching his son at age 5 when he first wanted to play football.
More than a decade later, the lessons continue at American Heritage.
Surtain Sr., a former three-time Pro Bowl selection, is now the head coach at Heritage — of one of the nation’s top programs, which entered this season on a 14-game winning streak.
Surtain Jr., who has scholarship offers from numerous schools, including UM, UF, FSU, Clemson, Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, has grown up and become the top-rated cornerback prospect in the country.
“I learned a lot from my dad and watching him play at a high level,” Surtain Jr. said. “He’s taught me a lot about technique and different schemes.”
First as an assistant coach under former coach Mike Rumph, and last year as the head coach, Surtain has been a part of American Heritage’s run of three state championships in four years.
Surtain Sr. went to Southern Mississippi and was later drafted in the second round by the Dolphins. He and Sam Madison, who is coaching the defensive backs at Broward County’s other national powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas this season, became one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
At 6-2, 185 pounds, Surtain Jr. his son is three inches taller and has all the top colleges in the country coveting his skills. He enters his senior season ranked No. 4 among all players in the nation and the No. 1 cornerback in the country by 247Sports.com.
But Surtain Jr. is taking the attention in stride, something he learned from his father.
“My dad has helped me a lot through the [college] recruiting process and always told me to stay humble,” Surtain Jr. said.
Surtain Jr. and fellow senior Tyson Campbell, ranked the No. 3 cornerback in the nation by 247Sports, are the cornerstones of one of the nation’s best defensive back units.
“Tyson has excellent technique and great ball skills,” Surtain Jr. said. “We try to work on our craft every day, and we’re trying to bring home another championship.”
During Heritage’s undefeated championship run last year, Surtain Jr. intercepted two passes and recovered three fumbles, including one he returned for a touchdown. He also returned kicks and is likely to see action on offense as a wide receiver this season.
Campbell picked off three passes last season.
“We know it’s 9-on-9 on the field because both of these guys will lock things down on their end,” American Heritage defensive coordinator Chad Wilson said.
On defense is where Surtain Jr. and his Patriots teammates are already leaving a mark as one of the stingiest squads in the state.
“I feel like our coaches and with the knowledge of the game that they bring to us you can’t find a better secondary in the nation,” Campbell said.
Heritage, ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps, gave everyone a taste on Aug. 18 when its defenders intercepted five passes and forced seven turnovers overall in a 42-27 win over five-time state champion Miami Booker T. Washington.
The Patriots opened the season this past Saturday with a trip to Virginia Beach where they played out-of-state foe Bishop Sullivan and will host Nevada’s Liberty High School on Sept. 1. They’ll also take on Chaminade-Madonna and Miramar later in the season.
“We pride ourselves on defense on creating turnovers and creating havoc,” Surtain Sr. said. “We have to get better and see what adjustments we need to make. Our goal each and every year is to play well into December, and I think we will again this season.”
Heritage’s secondary will benefit from playing behind one of the best defensive fronts in South Florida.
Senior defensive end Andrew Chatfield, a former Ohio State commitment, had 19 sacks last season and will anchor the unit up front along with University of Miami commit Nesta Silvera.
“It’s real easy and it’s getting easier to get to the quarterback,” Chatfield said. “If someone double-tams me, he can get to the quarterback and vice versa.”
Heritage shouldn’t have an issue on that side of the ball, and if its offense can become prolific under new quarterback Cameron Smith, it should be among the nation’s best, as well.
Anthony Schwartz, one of the country’s fastest receivers and track sprinters, and Vanderbilt commitment Miles Jones are among the top weapons on the Patriots’ offense.
“We’re going all out for this one, putting all we can into it,” Chatfield said. “We did whatever we had to over the summer to be the best. This is the last time we’re all rolling together so this is going to be special.”