Even though he has carried the ball 792 times for 6,421 yards and 75 touchdowns since he first started playing as an eighth-grader for Plantation American Heritage, Sony Michel has never experienced what it feels like to play a football game in December.
“I’m not so used to a season being this long,” said Michel, who was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday.
“Everything just feels different. But it feels right.”
When the Patriots (12-1) visit Lake Wales (9-3) on Friday night in a Class 5A state semifinal they’ll have a chance to become only the second team in school history to punch a ticket to the state title game (Heritage lost to Tallahassee North Florida Christian in 1998).
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They’ll also be carrying the flag for Broward County. Heritage is the only remaining Broward school still alive. The last time Broward didn’t have at least one team reach a state championship game was in 1995, the year Michel was born.
“To be the last one standing we understand the severity of it and how we’ve got to go out and play, continue to take care of business,” Patriots coach Mike Rumph said.
“The thing that’s helped us the most is just the tough schedule we played. The kids don’t flinch. It’s just another game. We’ve been through tougher times.”
Michel, who became only the fifth Broward County player to win Gatorade’s Player of the Year Award since 1985 and the first since St. Thomas Aquinas offensive lineman Sam Young in 2005, has elevated his level of play over the last two weeks.
He put up a season-high 276 yards, 22 carries and three touchdowns in a 49-34 shootout win at Immokalee two weeks ago and followed it up with 260 yards and two scores on 18 carries last week in a 41-7 win over Wauchula Hardee.
Does he have a different look in his eye lately?
“Not really,” Rumph said. “Sony's always been that guy. I just think we’re calling on him a little more now. If you look at the stats, he was getting like 14-15 carries a game during the season. Now he’s getting about 22-25. You feed the monster more and he’s just going to produce more for us.”
Still, Rumph has been impressed with how his 5-11, 205-pound senior has run of late, saying he's been getting stronger and stronger as games have worn on.
Michel should be pretty well rested. His 186 carries are a far cry from his workhorse days as an eighth-grader (248 att., 1,825 yards, 18 TDs) and freshman (230 att., 1,730 yards, 21 TDs). In fact, he hasn't carried the ball more than 22 times in a game since he was a freshman.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting the chance to get those carries again,” Michel said. “But it’s all about winning and it hasn’t just been me.
“One thing a lot of people don't know is our O-line doesn't have backups. They’re in there with the second string. If we’re blowing out teams they don’t come out. They stay in the game helping the next running back, the next quarterback. Those guys deserve all the credit for what me, [receiver] Isaiah [McKenzie], [quarterback] Torrance [Gibson] and the other skill guys get to do.”
Rumph smiles when he hears those words. His starting offensive line is big. From left to right it goes 6-6, 315-pound senior Mack Viel, 6-4, 315-pound junior Noah Bringas, 6-4, 305 senior Nathan Kirchmier, 6-0, 290-pound senior Shondell Parks and 6-5, 308-pound freshman T.J. Slaton. Rumph said he has three backups, one is 6-4, 275-pound senior defensive tackle Justin Sibole.
“Those guys have to work hard, but that’s why they’re in such great shape,” he said. “And that's a big reason we’re still playing now in December.”