A veteran coach of several state champion teams, Miami Central’s Roland Smith has filled his office with memorabilia.
Aspirational tokens of old squads crying happy tears and alums that went on to fulfill their professional dreams.
Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1991, Smith never played in the NFL, initials he says stand for “Not For Long.” Which is why the biggest poster in the room is a generic mansion overlooking an anonymous sea, with a line of sports cars parked outside. It reads: “Justification for higher education.”
“I’ll never have a house like that.” Smith said. “But, if you go to school, you can get like that one day.”
Smith’s pupils walk in and out of that room several times during the day: at lunchtime, before practice, before going home. The Rockets spend so much time together — eating, studying, or just hanging out before a game — that calling it “family” does not feel forced when it comes out of the players’ mouths.
They credit their famed in-game resilience, and their current 7-1 record, to the community and the support they carry with them every Friday.
“Teammates instill that discipline on each other, when they sweat together, compete together and go to the battlefield together,” Smith said.
THE NATIONAL QUEST
With goals of district, state and national championships, the Class 6A leaders have already been outside Florida this season. It was their only defeat so far, against D.C.’s St. John’s, after five overtimes. They have moved on since, and will face Miami Northwestern this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Traz Powell Stadium.
“Nationals is a realistic goal, but they know they have to face each game like it was a state final,” said Smith, who coached Northwestern to a state championship over a decade ago.
This year, Smith has a young but experienced squad, led by senior quarterback Maurice Underwood.
Standing at 6-3, the slender Underwood prefers smart passing to running the ball. He has thrown 13 touchdown passes in eight games this year, and plans to go undefeated for the rest of the season.
“Every game, I have a chip on my shoulder because I’ve never been to state before, and people have been doubting me,” Underwood said.
Not winning state championship in two years would be a normal dry spell. Not at Miami Central.
The weight is heavy for linebacker Tatum Bethune, and he uses it as motivation every day.
“I have been to states, but not contributed,” said Bethune, a University of Central Florida commit. “I wanna be a big factor there, somebody people talk about when they think of it.”
After facing Northwestern, the Rockets will play undefeated Carol City at home, before kicking off regional playoffs the weekend of Nov. 9.