When South Dade High School opened in 1953, the starting center on the football team was Allan Underwood.
Sixty years later, South Dade has reached the state semifinals for the first time in school history, and snapping the ball will be another Underwood, Allan’s grandson, Garrett.
South Dade (12-1) will play host to Palm Beach Gardens (9-4) Friday night at 7:30 at Harris Field. Tickets to the 4,500-seat stadium are expected to sell out quickly.
One person who won’t be there, unfortunately, is Allan Underwood. He passed away in September of 2012 at age 75. A big sports fan, he suffered a heart attack while watching Monday Night Football at his home in Metter, Ga.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
His son, Paul Underwood, waited until Garrett came home from football practice to tell him the news.
“(Breaking the news) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Paul Underwood said.
A 5-11, 275-pound senior with a 4.7 grade-point average, Garrett said he has dedicated every subsequent game to the memory of the man he called “granddaddy.”
Garrett admits he “broke down” when he was told his grandfather had passed.
“We were really close,” Garrett said. “We had a lot of common interests like hunting, fishing and playing sports.”
Even though he lived in Georgia, Allan Underwood would make the 10-hour drive — by himself — two or three times a year to come see his grandson play for his beloved South Dade. And last week — when the Bucs finally got over the regional-finals hump and beat Coral Gables 6-0 in a torrential downpour — would have been his type of game, Paul Underwood and Garrett said.
“You wouldn’t have gotten him out of the stands,” Paul Underwood said. “He would have stayed there as long as the boys were on the field.”
Added Garrett: “He wouldn’t have budged.”
The Bucs have shown similar resolve this season. In three playoff games, they have allowed a combined total of 14 points.
On offense, the Bucs have been known as a passing team until the past two weeks when Garrett’s unit — the offensive line — has come to the forefront.
“The Beefy Boys”, as they are known, have paved the way for running back Johnnie Hankins to produce consecutive 100-yard rushing games.
Both of those games came in rainy and/or muddy conditions, when the Bucs had little choice but to try the ground game, which is reliant on an offensive line that returned just one starter from last season — Garrett, who has been the team’s center since he was a sophomore.
“Garrett is our team captain on offense,” Bucs coach Nate Hudson said. “He’s been our catalyst.”
Hudson said Garrett took it upon himself to get the linemen together. Typically, they would meet at the local Wendy’s and used that as the O-line’s headquarters.
Garrett started building relationships with senior left tackle Robert Provost, senior left guard Joshua Hicks, senior right guard Keyno Richardson and sophomore right tackle Michael Davis.
Putting it all together has been first-year offensive line coach Michael Campos, a former South Dade player who is only 22 years old.
“The players respect [Campos], and they can relate to him,” Hudson said. “He gets dirty just like them.”
That’s the perfect style of coach for Garrett, the son and grandson of farmers.
“I don’t mind using my hands to do some work,” Garrett said.
If everything goes well for the Bucs, Friday night will feel like a bountiful harvest for the Underwood family.
The seeds of hope planted in the spring will have fully matured, and all the hard work put in over 100 yards of land by the Beefy Boys will have resulted in a joyous celebration.
All that will be missing is Granddaddy Underwood.
“It will be bittersweet,” Garrett said. “It will be real emotional.”