There’s a new face leading the Miami Champagnat Catholic football team.
The ultimate goal, however, remains the same.
The Lions have every intention of making it back to Orlando and defending their Class 2A state championship.
But if they do that, it will be a new cast leading the way.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
That starts with new head coach Hector Clavijo. He replaces Dennis Marroquin, who led Champagnat to back-to-back state championship appearances during the last two years.
And while there’s a new man at the head of the program, the message to the players hasn’t changed.
“The biggest point to harp on is letting the kids know that every team we play this year is going to want to take us out,” Clavijo said. “We can’t take any team lightly no matter who we’re playing.”
That approach paid off for Champagnat last year, as the program went 9-2 and won its second state football title in school history with a 24-7 win over Jacksonville University Christian. The win came a year after the Lions made it to state and fell one win short of the ultimate goal.
“It was unbelievable,” junior wide receiver Johnquai Lewis said. “... People thought from my freshman year when we lost [in 2016] that we wouldn’t be able to come back to states. We proved everybody wrong. We proved that we really wanted it.”
Now, Champagnat is ready to prove it again.
They lose a group of top players from last year’s title run, including defensive ends Greg Rousseau (now at UM) and Kayode Oladele (now at Auburn) as well as linebacker Donovan Georges (now at FIU).
But returning is a star-studded offense that features nine starters from 2018 — namely junior receivers Lewis and Marc Britt and junior running back Calvin Montgomery.
Lewis will also play a pivotal role on the defense, which returns five starters to a group that Clavijo says will continue to allow the Lions to be a “aggressive, a hard-nosed, blitzing team.”
And with new faces ready to make an impact, Clavijo said he is optimistic that another long playoff run is in the picture this season.
“We’re really ahead of the curve from where I thought we would be,” Clavijo said. “It’s been great. The kids have been realizing ‘Hey, there’s a new guy next to me but he’s doing his job and I’m going to continue to do mine.’ It’s that mind-set where everyone’s just doing their job. It’s been a delight to be out there.”
The regular-season schedule will give Champagnat a quality test as well. Look to their first two games in October to see just how prepared the Lions will be come playoffs. Their opponents on those two Fridays: a road contest against Class 7A state champion Venice on Oct. 12 and a home game against Class 4A state semifinalist Davie University School.
“We’re going to be ready,” Clavijo said. “You could see it. You could see the pieces starting to gel together even without to much effort from a coaching standpoint in terms of having to put it together. When the kids come together without you having to force them to come together, it’s going to make the season a breeze. … We’re ready to go.”
NOTE: The Miami Herald is now offering a digital sports-only subscription for $30 per year. This is unlimited access to all Herald sports and sports stories, thus allowing you to comment in the section below as many times as you wish. Click right here to get started immediately.