After spending 10 years trying to climb their way back up to the top of the mountain, the Northwestern Bulls football program will face a new challenge as the 2018 season embarks.
The Bulls, who won the program’s fifth state title and first since 2007 last December when they came from behind to knock off Seffner Armwood 21-16 in the 6A state title game, now take on the role they last enjoyed in 2008 – that of being a defending state champion and thus perhaps playing the season with an “X” on their back.
“Defending state champions sounds awesome and has a nice ring to it,” coach Max Edwards said. “But that’s in the past now. There’s no time to rest on our laurels – this is a new year with new challenges in front of us. Last year’s team was a state champion team. We enjoyed it for a while, had a great ring ceremony in late May after our spring game.
“But now we have a lot of new faces and it’s time to move on.”
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Edwards said he’s looking forward to the challenge of his team being the hunted rather than the hunter.
“I think when you’re the head coach at Miami Northwestern and you play football at Miami Northwestern, you’re always going to have an X on your back no matter what,” said Edwards. “But the fact that now we’re defending state champs, maybe it’s like having three X’s on our back so we find that kind of challenge wonderful.”
But keeping his kids “hungry” and not necessarily resting on their laurels might not be as big a challenge as Edwards thinks. That’s because not only are the Bulls residing in perhaps the toughest district in the entire nation, the now-coined “district of death” with Carol City, Central and Norland, but they’re not even the preseason favorite in their own district.
That label would appear to belong to Carol City as all the offseason buzz appears to be surrounding the Chiefs. Not only are they returning a slew of starters from last season but had a banner offseason as a bushel full of transfers, led by quarterback Daniel Richardson over from Booker T. Washington, came in from anywhere and everywhere.
Carol City is not only the favorite in this brutal district but could be the best team in the entire state regardless of class.
That’s just fine with Edwards.
“We kind of like that,” said Edwards. “It’s something perhaps maybe the kids will feed off of. Kind of a message to the kids that nobody respected what you did last year so it reminds us once again that every year is a challenge so we don’t mind one bit that the spotlight is maybe on Carol City and even Central and Norland more than us.”
But talk to the Northwestern players and they aren’t quite as happy about that. Which is just the way Edwards likes it.
“Very disrespectful but if we just come to work and show up, we’ll have the opportunity to take care of all that business down the road,” said offensive tackle and South Carolina commit Mark Fox. “We know we’ll still have a big target on our back and everybody is going to want to come at us every week so its no big deal, we’ll just take it one game at a time, come to work and find a way to get it done. That’s what we do around here.”
“There’s a lot of talking going on right now but we try and learn to be humble around here and we’ll let our play on the field do the talking when we get out there on Friday nights,” said linebacker and University of Miami commit Samuel Brooks, who suffered through a brutal 2017 season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a regular season game against Carol City and had to watch his team win a state title on crutches from the sideline.
“Last year? I just felt sick that I couldn’t be out there to help my team and actually cried when my team won state, as happy as I was for my teammates, it just tore me up that I couldn’t be part of it as far as helping them win. This year, I plan on playing every game like it’s my last and not going to take anything for granted.”
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