Joseph Yearby’s message was clear to his Central football teammates.
And it brought tears to their eyes.
“I just told them my heart is still with them,” Yearby said. “I told them to just believe I’m still in the backfield with them and to go out and win this [championship].”
Yearby spoke to his teammates at Monday’s practice less than 48 hours after his high school career ended when he fractured his left fibula in Central’s regional final victory over Palm Bay Heritage.
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The Rockets’ goal is simple — win it for Joe.
“Joe did a lot for us and he’d do anything to be out here with us so,” said senior running back Dalvin Cook Tuesday. “He had me in tears [Monday]. Something like this can really bring you down. My job now is to keep him up and make sure we win it for him.”
Central (11-1), ranked No. 3 nationally by USA Today, will attempt to move one step closer to its second consecutive state championship and third in four seasons when it takes on Daytona Beach Mainland in a Class 6A state semifinal.
If Central wins Friday, it would become the first Miami-Dade County team to reach the state finals four consecutive seasons.
Since their loss to Booker T. Washington on Sept. 6, the Rockets have won 11 in a row, winning each game by 17 points or more. Mainland has won eight in a row with its only defeat coming against another South Florida team still battling for a state title — Plantation American Heritage.
Yearby, who finished with 1,700 yards on 177 carries and 19 touchdowns this season, is scheduled to have surgery Wednesday afternoon. Yearby said it would take close to two months before he can start working back into football shape.
Yearby, a University of Miami commitment, plans to enroll early and would be ready for spring football. For his career, Yearby finished with 5,593 yards and 68 touchdowns and was the first sophomore in Miami-Dade history to run for more than 2,000 yards.
“It’s really hurt knowing I can’t go out there and help my teammates on the field,” Yearby said. “But right now, I just have to be there for them.”
Cook, currently committed to the University of Florida and still being pursued by UM and several other schools, ran for 244 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries this past Saturday following Yearby’s exit in the first quarter.
But Cook isn’t the only player ready to pick up the slack.
Senior Malik Adams (5-9, 190 pounds) has been waiting for an opportunity like this his whole high school career.
“This is my time to shine now,” Adams said. “I played running back, fullback and special teams, and my goal here was always to help a team win.”
Adams has been on the team since his freshman season but played sparingly behind the Rockets’ superstar tailback duo.
This season, Adams has run for 301 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries and has 873 yards and five touchdowns on 99 carries for his career.
“I learned a lot from Joe and Dalvin on how to play this game,” Adams said. “It’s a bad feeling to see Joe go down. I learned how to work hard and be a humble player from them and I’m ready to go.”
Cook said Adams has always had the ability to be a big contributor if given the opportunity.
If he can balance the running game, it should help Central’s passing game continue to thrive. Against Heritage last week, senior quarterback Keith Reed threw four touchdown passes — two each to receivers Da’Vante Phillips and Tavius Brown Jr.
“Malik and I grew up together and stayed at my house every day,” Cook said. “I’m just trying to teach him to play the position the same way me and Joe did and he can come in and we won’t lack anything. He could have played at any school, but he’s always been a Rocket at heart, and I respect him a lot for that.”