Miami-Dade High Schools

Improved morale fuels Coral Gables Cavaliers

University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman has visited Coral Gables High so often this fall that some people are starting to get confused.

“I think Denzel thinks he still goes to school here,” second-year Gables coach Roger Pollard said. “Maybe I should give him a class schedule.”

One thing Perryman doesn’t need is a football schedule. He — and loads of other Gables alumni — are aware that the Cavaliers are playing their biggest game in nearly three decades Saturday at 1 p.m., when they face South Dade at Traz Powell Stadium in a Class 8A regional final.

Both teams are 11-1, and both teams lost earlier this season to Killian, although South Dade avenged that defeat last week by beating the Cougars in the regional semifinals.

Gables last week rallied from a 20-0 deficit to defeat nemesis Columbus 34-26, beating the Explorers in the playoffs for the first time in school history.

That gave Gables its largest single-season win total since 1969, which was one year after the Cavaliers won their fourth — and so far last — state title.

The Cavaliers’ current six-game win streak has brought them within three victories of a state championship, and it has also inspired numerous alumni to reconnect with their alma mater.

Among the well-known athletes who have called, written or visited the current crop of Cavaliers are New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, retired sprinter and Olympic gold-medalist Gerald Tinker, former NFL linebacker Glenn Cameron and ex-NFL defensive tackle Gary Dunn.

But none of those men can truly help the Cavaliers on Saturday, when they face a South Dade team that beat Gables 52-35 in a wide-open spring exhibition game.

Helping Gables look good is senior running back Gregory Howell, who has run for 1,502 yards, a 7.1 average and 13 TDs. He and 6-3 junior wide receiver Shaquery Wilson are the team’s top recruits.

Gables’ defense appears much improved since then, producing five shutouts and allowing an average of just 10.8 points per game. The Cavaliers haven’t been this far in the playoffs since 1985.

Pollard, whose team finished 4-8 in his first season, has quickly turned around a program he inherited from his mentor Joe Montoya, who now coaches at Varela.

Johnson, the wide receiver, said Pollard has helped transform the Gables psyche.

“In the spring, we were I-I-I, me-me-me,” he said. “Now we’re family. If one of us misses a tackle, the next one will make it. If we drop a pass, we know the next time we won’t. We trust each other.”