High school football practice opened Monday statewide.
Some like Miami Columbus and Parkland Douglas didn’t waste a minute, starting practices at midnight.
At Pembroke Pines Flanagan, former Florida State University star Devin Bush officially began his first season as the Falcons’ coach with an afternoon practice.
Bush knows his team has the potential for a breakout year.
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But making the Falcons, who went 6-5 and narrowly missed clinching a playoff berth in 2012, believe they can contend with South Florida’s best has been his primary message since his first day on the job.
Flanagan, a school whose athletic program is known primarily for its baseball success, has never made the playoffs in football.
“I tell them stories all the time about me and how I came up and the people I saw around me that overcame adversity to get where they got,” Bush said. “I’m trying to train them never to say, ‘I can’t.’ They have to realize that everything in life can be accomplished if you assess the problem and correct it and work hard at it.”
Bush, a graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes, was a star defensive back for the Seminoles — winning a national championship in 1993 before playing eight seasons in the NFL.
Bush took over a team that returns 15 starters (eight on offense, seven on defense) that finished third in District 12-8A last season behind powerhouses Weston Cypress Bay and Miramar. Both of those squads are still considered among the best in South Florida.
Bush said although the group is experienced, they are still mostly underclassmen with only six seniors among the returning starters.
Flanagan had a 6-2 record in late October last season before losing its final three games, including a crushing 35-16 defeat against Miramar.
Taking the next step won’t be easy in a larger district that includes defending Class 8A state runner-up Cypress Bay and Miramar as well as Miramar Everglades, Cooper City, Davie Western and Hollywood McArthur.
But the Falcons should have one of the most dynamic offenses in the county. Led by junior quarterback Ryan Stanley, who threw for 2,347 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, Flanagan averaged 26.8 points per game.
Stanley spent the summer working on his technique at 7-on-7s and at the Ken Mastrole Passing Academy. Stanley said believes his footwork and his throwing motion have improved.
“I worked on my reads and watched film and made sure to keep my elbow down and toss a more tight spiral,” Stanley said.
Flanagan’s defense needs to improve to contend with the district’s best, and it might have a few players who can get the job done.
The headliner is senior cornerback Mark Bruno (5-10, 170), an FIU commitment with a handful of other offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Senior defensive end Desmond Mitchell and Devin Bush Jr., a 5-10, 195-pound sophomore linebacker, are among the other standouts.
Flanagan crushed Hollywood Hills 47-21 in its spring game and will challenge itself immediately with a preseason classic game against Miami Norland.
“We’ve noticed the difference this season since the spring,” Stanley said. “The discipline is there with Coach Bush leading the way. The game is 50 percent technique, but the rest is all heart. You have to see yourself capable of succeeding, and I think we do on this team.”
Under the new Florida High School Athletic Association’s policies for fall practices, teams are only allowed one practice (three hours max) and a walk-through for the first week, all of which are to be noncontact. For the first two days, teams can only practice in helmets and shorts before being allowed to wear shoulder pads the next three sessions.
Full-contact practices are permitted from the sixth practice session onward, and teams will be allowed to begin two-a-day sessions starting with their eighth practice session. Teams are not allowed to hold two-a-day sessions on consecutive practices, however, and cannot exceed 24 total practice hours in a week.