Flag football is growing around the state, and nowhere is that more evident than in Miami-Dade County.
Last year, there were only eight programs playing flag football in Dade — and none of them were public schools. This year, there are 31 Dade public schools that are playing flag football for the first time.
“I don’t know why it took this long,” Monsignor Pace coach John Rodriguez said. “I’ve been championing this for years. It’s a relatively inexpensive sport — you just need flags, footballs and referee fees.”
With the addition of the Dade schools, flag football has now expanded into two classes. Defending champion Seminole Ridge, which has won four of the past six state titles, will be in 2A.
Seminole Ridge, which did not allow a point in five playoff games last year, outscoring opponents 139-0, will again be favored. The Hawks never allowed a point all of last year unless they led by at least 28 points.
The top 2A teams in Dade or Broward include Everglades, Miramar, Taravella and Blanche Ely. All four of those schools made the playoffs last season, and Everglades went the furthest, losing 24-0 to Seminole Ridge in the state semifinals.
Everglades returns senior Karima Harris, who scored 34 touchdowns, including seven in the postseason. She scored twice in a regional final win over Pace.
Elsewhere, Fort Lauderdale, the first Broward school to win state in flag football with its 2003 title, is also in 2A.
In Class 1A, local contenders include 2015 playoff teams Pace, Boyd Anderson and Archbishop McCarthy. Dillard, which is the other Broward team to win state with its 2006 title, is also in 1A.
In addition, Coconut Creek and Stranahan figure to contend in 1A based on top returning stars.
Stranahan’s Amanda Hester scored 10 touchdowns last year, rushing for 442 yards and gaining 992 yards on receptions for an 11-2 team.
Coconut Creek senior Ambresha Long had 24 touchdowns and 1,100 all-purpose yards last season. On defense, she had 17 interceptions as her team went 14-1.
As for the rest of the state, the 1A favorite is Tampa Robinson, which has made the state final two years in a row. The Knights beat Seminole Ridge 7-6 in the 2014 final before losing 12-0 in the 2015 rematch.
“I’m gonna tell you the secret,” Stranahan coach Keidran Willis said when asked about Robinson and Seminole Ridge. “They practice year-round. They have an AAU team, and they do tournaments.
“They start with those girls in elementary school. Most of those girls don’t play other sports. They take it really seriously.”
Willis said only five of his 30 players are exclusive to football. But he can’t blame his multi-sport standouts since there are no college scholarship opportunities for flag football, a sistuation he hopes will change in time.
In the meantime, Willis said fans should come out to watch Hester, who is also a 5-6 point guard in basketball with interest from Lynn University.
“You can throw her a pass that you think is out of her reach, and she will still catch it,” Willis said. “I’ve seen her do things that some boys can’t do.”
Regular season: March 7-April 16.
District playoffs: April 25-28.
Regional semifinals: May 6.
Regional finals: May 10.
State tournament: May 13-14, site TBA.
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
Emily Acosta, Mater Academy, Sr.; Karima Harris, Everglades, Sr.; Amanda Hester, Stranahan, Sr.; Thammar Petit-Car, Pace, Sr.; Maddie St. Phillip, Archbishop McCarthy, Sr.; Destiny Wilson, Pace, Sr.
Archbishop McCarthy – Coach: John Anfuso; Last year: 9-2; Top players: WR/DE Maddie St. Phillip (sr.); WR/LB Reagan McCray (jr.); QB Hannah Asher (jr.); Noteworthy: The team is athletic but relatively inexperienced.
Cypress Bay – Coach: Howie Schrager; Last year: 3-9; Top players: WR/DB Brianna Buckley (sr.); C/LB Alexandra Quintana (sr.); WR/DB Kaya Alim (so.); Noteworthy: Brianna and Brittney Buckley are the daughters of ex-NFL DB Terrell Buckley.
Deerfield Beach – Coach: Cam Thomas; Last year: 4-7; Top players: ATH Allison Jordan (sr.); DE/RB Taylor Brown (jr.); ATH Christie Charles (sr.); Noteworthy: The team returns 14 of the 20 players from last year’s roster.
Ferguson – Coach: Jayson Malkin: Last year: NA; Top players: RB/DB Anya Martinez (sr.); WR/DB Anagabriel Madrid (jr.); WR/DB Ashley Siles (so.); Noteworthy: This is one of the 31 new public-school teams in Dade this year.
Hebrew Academy – Coach: Deb Erickson; Last year: 8-4; Top players: WR/DB Florencia Chami (jr.); QB Sarina Abramowitz jr.); LB Kayla Wolfson (fr.); Noteworthy: Chami had 1,400 receiving yards and 22 TDs last year.
Mater Academy – Coach: Luis Sanchez; Last year: 11-3; Top players: WR/DB Emily Acosta (sr.); WR/DB Elizabeth Dalmau (fr.); DL Karla Vargas (fr.); Noteworthy: Vargas had 15 interceptions and 49 catches last year.
Monsignor Pace – Coach: John Rodriguez; Last year: 15-1; Top players: WR/DB Destiny Wilson (sr.); WR/LB Thamar Petitcar (sr.); WR/DB Sophia Gonzalez (sr.); Noteworthy: Team will have to break in a new quarterback.