Until he ended up in foster care, Monarch linebacker Maurice Dillard never had the benefit of a stable home life.
“I would never see my parents,” Dillard said.
Monarch offensive tackle Roberto Montanez knows just how Dillard feels. Montanez also spent time in foster care, separated from his three younger brothers.
Friday marks the fifth anniversary of his mother’s death, and the Monarch players will wear stickers with her initials “CL” on their helmets for that night’s Region 3-8A semifinal against Flanagan (11-0) at Deerfield Beach High School.
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Then again, foster kids are a big part of the Monarch program and a significant reason why the team is enjoying a 9-1 record and the best season in school history.
In close proximity to Monarch lies the SOS Children’s Villages, a series of 12 foster-care homes that house as many as 75 boys and girls, according to their website.
Among other Monarch football players who have come through SOS are Under Armour All-American safety Shawn Burgess-Becker, who is a University of Alabama recruit, and junior all-purpose player Xavious Thomas. Coach Calvin Davis said he has a handful of additional SOS kids on Monarch’s junior varsity team.
“SOS gave me a family that would be there all the time,” said Dillard, who is now an honors student with a 4.4 grade-point average and a scholarship offer to wrestle at Johns Hopkins University.
“It was the first time I was able to stay at one school, have the same friends, get older with them.”
Montanez, Dillard, Burgess-Becker and Thomas met at SOS as young teenagers before they ever put on a helmet at Monarch.
“What we’ve gone through [in foster care] has brought us close together, more like brothers,” Burgess-Becker said. “I feel like it’s motivated us. We’re on the same mission.”
Of the four, only Thomas still lives at SOS. Dillard was taken in by his godmother three years ago, Montanez now lives with a friend, and Burgess-Becker lives with a family in Coconut Creek.
Dillard said foster care isn’t perfect.
“Sometimes you’ll have a staff member that gets really involved with you, cares for you,” Dillard said. “Then you have some staff that don’t want to be there. They’re just there to pick up a check.
“With football [at Monarch], it’s like a big family. Everybody looks out for you. You can ask anybody and they’ll give you a ride home. They treat you like one of their best friends — like you’ve known them forever.”
On Monday, Montanez received his first scholarship offer. It was to Stillman College, a Division II school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He committed on the spot.
Like Dillard, Montanez said he wants to be successful so he can take care of his younger brothers. The two youngest live in Orlando and a third is in Georgia. He hasn’t seen them in more than 18 months.
“My life’s been hard,” Montanez said. “But football keeps us together, keeps us away from the bull that other people do.
“If you can beat foster care, you can beat anything. I want people to see that life shouldn’t be a brick wall in your way — just a stepping stone to being a better person.”