High School Sports

Defending state champion Flanagan not afraid to set its sights on repeat

Flanagan high school head coach Stanford Samuel II talks to his team in t he locker room during the first practice of the high school football season at Flanagan High School on Mon., Aug. 1, 2016. The reigning state champions look to repeat again despite the loss of key players from last year.
Flanagan high school head coach Stanford Samuel II talks to his team in t he locker room during the first practice of the high school football season at Flanagan High School on Mon., Aug. 1, 2016. The reigning state champions look to repeat again despite the loss of key players from last year. lriely@miamiherald.com

As Flanagan High’s defensive coordinator and right-hand-man to coach Devin Bush, Stanford Samuels Jr. took delight in being the guy who didn’t have to do interviews or be politically correct.

He took joy in being “the little devil” on Bush’s shoulder, the coach who could brag and boast about one of the best Broward County defenses ever assembled — one that devoured opponents as the Falcons rolled to their first state title last season.

“I won’t shy away from the expectations that remain here,” the first-year coach said Monday, the opening day of practice for high school football in Florida.

“We started with those expectations and we’ll always keep them. It’s state championship or bust around here. Anytime we come up shy of that state championship it’s a bad season for us. So I mean in house that’s the goal, not only the goal, but something we expect. A goal isn’t something you put up on a wall and wish for. You expect it.”

A year ago, when the Falcons began the season nationally ranked and boasting a senior class with six Football Bowl Subdivision recruits, a state championship was something most outside the program expected. On Monday, Samuels, 36, was busy selling his team on the notion it is “forgotten” and “unranked.”

While the Falcons may not have the same name recognition they did a year ago when Devin Bush Jr., Devin Gil and Josh Metellus (all University of Michigan signees) led a defense that allowed only 6.4 points per game and posted six shutouts, Samuels said there is still more than enough talent around to win back-to-back titles.

The known names are All-American cornerback and Florida State commitment Stanford Samuels III, a 6-2, 175-pound cornerback; three-star cornerback Faion Hicks (5-10, 185), and Kentucky commitment Clevan Thomas, a 5-11, 191-pound receiver.

The unknown names include a trio of transfers led by 6-5, 215-pound receiver Shimoore Stearn, an FIU commitment, and a growing list of talented juniors who saw a lot of valuable reps last year.

“You always stay prepared when you make sure young guys are getting reps, crucial reps, not just blowout reps,” Samuels said. “We lost a considerable amount of talent and experience. But the main thing is these kids buy into the system.”

Stanford Samuels III, an All-American cornerback and Florida State commitment, talks about his father Stanford II taking over as coach at defending Class 8A state champion Flanagan on the first day of fall practice on Mon., Aug. 1, 2016.

In addition to coach Bush, who is now a defensive analyst at Michigan, the only other coach lost from last year’s title team was offensive coordinator Ryan Collins, a former University of Miami quarterback.

Samuels said the rest of the staff returns intact, and nothing else has really changed.

“My dad and Coach Bush are very similar,” Samuels III said of his father. “That’s why it worked so well the last couple years. But now that my dad has the job I mean it’s going to be the same focus, the same expectations, basically everything is the same. We’re moving at a faster focus because we know what it takes to get there. Now that we know what it takes, we’ve just got to do it.”

Samuels said he and Bush, who were teammates at Florida State, still talk all the time, and that whenever he makes decisions, he usually leans on Bush for his opinion.

“People always asked what the secret was at Flanagan,” Samuels said. “It’s two heads and four eyes.”

Initially, the Falcons were planning on opening the regular season against four-time defending Class 6A state champion Miami Central. But instead, Samuels said, the Falcons will open Aug. 26 at home against West Palm Beach’s Oxbridge Academy, a Class 3A playoff team last season.

The rest of the schedule includes six games against District 12-8A foes, and dates with Coconut Creek, Hollywood Chaminade and defending Class 7A state champion St. Thomas Aquinas — the nation’s No. 1-ranked team.

“When you try to win back-to-back titles you have to fight complacency, a sense of entitlement — you have to fight the bullseye,” said Samuels, who won back-to-back titles in high school at Carol City, a national title at FSU and back-to-back CFL Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes.

“It’s all about how you view the game. We’re in attack mode all the time. We can’t be the hunted when we’re hunting.”

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