Dolphins High school Media day at Hard Rock Stadium
There’s no other sports team in the nation with the Flying L’s nickname, and there’s no place else in the world better suited for Richard Dunbar III than Fort Lauderdale High.
Fort Lauderdale — Broward County’s oldest high school — opened to nine students in 1899, and its sports teams got their nickname in the 1920s during a track meet. As the story goes, a Miami Herald reporter watched in awe as a Fort Lauderdale sprinter, Charley Rodes, raced around the track:
“Look at that L fly,” the Herald writer said, and the nickname stuck.
Seventy years later, Dunbar was a running back and linebacker on some talented and yet terrible Flying L’s teams.
“We had phenomenal athletes,” Dunbar said, “but we didn’t play as a team.”
In his four years at the school, the Flying L’s lost 37 out of 40 games. As a freshman, there was a race riot at the school, Dunbar said. Yet, his love for Fort Lauderdale High never waned.
“We had a lot of guys who were passionate about the game, and we all came from the same neighborhood,” Dunbar said. “My coaches [Bill Caruso and Tyrone McGriff] supported me, and I wanted to do the same thing for the next generation.”
After playing football at Florida A&M and at Webber International, Dunbar was close to starting a career as a stockbroker. But his love for his old high school pulled him in a different direction, and he became Fort Lauderdale’s head coach in 2010.
Turnout for football was poor at first.
“We called ourselves ‘The Dirty Thirty’,” Dunbar said in a reference to the small roster size.
Last season, however, the Flying L’s — now with a roster that is 110 strong — did something big, beating Doral 54-7 for Fort Lauderdale’s first playoff win since 1966.
“It was really exciting. Our fans came down to Doral to watch us play,” running back Teron Brooks said. “It’s a loud fan base, but it didn’t feel real until we got to school and then we realized, ‘This is a big thing that’s happening.’ ”
Added lineman Justin Long: “We will forever go down in history as the team that went 9-3 and broke school records.”
The Flying L’s, in one season, won three times as many games as Dunbar did during his four-year playing career.
However, Fort Lauderdale’s season ended with a whimper as the Flying L’s were routed 51-0 by national power St. Thomas Aquinas. Two of Fort Lauderdale’s three losses last year were to Aquinas, and the combined score was 100-0.
“We respect [Aquinas] for who they are, a great program,” Dunbar said. “But we’re not intimidated.”
Dunbar, now a 40-year-old grandfather, has eight kids. One of his sons — Richard Dunbar IV — plays wide receiver on his team.
The family’s Flying L’s connection goes way back. The coach’s parents went to Fort Lauderdale High and so did many of his aunts and uncles.
His father, Richard Dunbar Jr., took him to his first Flying L’s football game, way back in 1984, against Stranahan, and he immediately fell in love with the program.
“Fort Lauderdale is in my DNA,” Dunbar said.
That helps explain how and why Dunbar stuck with his school even after that aforementioned racial strife more than a quarter-century ago.
“The school at that time was going through culture issues,” Dunbar said. “The riot of ‘93 nearly tore the school apart. Haitian versus American, white versus black — there were a lot of neighborhood fights that triggered the whole thing.
“It seemed like the entire City of Fort Lauderdale Police Department was at our school. Our administration restored order in a couple of days, but our football family never really rebounded.”
Even so, Caruso — who was Dunbar’s first head coach — made an impact on the future coach.
“He told me, ‘You will have a future,’ ” Dunbar said.
Caruso’s wife, Sue, served as Dunbar’s academic mentor. Dunbar visited the Caruso family’s home often in those days, and they are still close friends. Caruso even visits the team on occasion.
But the connections go even deeper than that because T.J. Lawrence, who was Dunbar’s youthful physical education teacher in the 1990s, is now his athletic director. And David Martin, who was Dunbar’s running-backs coach back then, is still with the program, in the same capacity.
“He’s the grandfather of the program,” Dunbar said.
Through it all, Dunbar considers the Flying L’s program a “hidden secret.”
Colleges are starting to find out about the talent on campus, and an example of that happened this past December, when Flying L’s offensive tackle Kaleb Boateng signed with Clemson.
The next step for Fort Lauderdale can be found at Lockhart Stadium, which had been the Flying L’s home field for decades and is now being refurbished. Dunbar is hoping Lockhart is ready to go next season, which would give the Flying L’s — who currently play at Dillard or Northeast High — a true home stadium for the first time since 2011.
“Our motto is brick by brick,” Dunbar said when asked how he has rebuilt this program. “We’ve had to restore pride and tradition. We’ve had to create something that makes kids and families want to be a part of us, and it’s working.
“I think this program can be back up there in the respect factor. We will become that school mentioned with Dillard, Aquinas, Gibbons. … We’re coming.”