Larry Blustein

Larry Blustein: Southwest makes its move up

Having covered high school football for more than 40 years — and watching for more than 50 — I can honestly tell you that Miami Southwest has never been a real threat on the football field.

While the Eagles can boast Hall of Famer Andre Dawson, movie director Jonathan Demme and sportscaster Jim Lampley, the football side of things have had every coach from Gene Jupin to Curt Wiles shaking their collective heads.

For all the Steve Tannens, Tony Chickillos, Steadman Scavellas, Witt and Ed Beckmans, Pop Corkers, John Williams, Lamarcus Joyners and Randy Burkes who have graced the purple and white, this football program has been powered by a number of hard-working, non major college prospects.

When Tim Neal took the job three years ago, after a successful run at Coral Gables, he knew all about the lack of tradition and pipeline of major college talent that would escape to other public and private schools. He realized, from being with the Cavaliers, that Southwest has never been a factor. Coral Gables won 44 of the first 46 meetings.

While he knew and fully understood what the job would be like, he also saw a bright spot. One that several other coaches tried to do, but it never caught on.

“You build your program based on academics and you would be surprised at how many parents will send their kids to you,” Neal said. “I have been around long enough to see outside the box. I know that this isn’t a football school, but it is one that teaches students in the classroom. You can find a happy medium.”

Neal has found that happy medium with perhaps more college football prospects, on one roster, than this program has ever had before. And most of the playmakers are underclassmen.

If you go into any game believing that junior quarterback D’undre Pickett-White is just an athlete, you will lose. He is one of the top passing quarterbacks in the Class of 2015. He has accuracy, arm strength and years of playing the position for in the youth league.

As impressive as Pickett-White is at 6-1 1/2, 175 pounds, fellow junior Trevon Sands has had the same impact Joyner did when he played for the Eagles.

He is the kind of player who will turn a game around in and instant. The lack of exposure last year hurt both he and Pickett-White. Not anymore.

“I have watched some great football players over the years,” Neal said. “But I have seen few do what Trevon can do — on both sides of the ball — for the entire game.”

The junior class is stacked with quality prospects in receivers Sam Flowers (5-10, 178) and Daquantay Smith, defensive back Quindale Corker and linebacker Edwin Reyes. Sophomore running back James Barnes and linemen Tyler McVay and Ricky Lindstrom are also players on the rise.

As with any program that has climbed toward the top, the senior class is always vital to the success. Leadership that is provided by safety Shyenn Magdeleno, receivers Austin Patino and Kristian Torano, running back Brian Paez, linebacker Pedro Muina, kicker Marco Romero and others.

“Our senior class has helped this team remain grounded,” Neal said. “They have been the glue for this program the past two years.”

Even though there are several games left before playoff tickets can be printed — the win over district favorite Belen Jesuit earned the Eagles the respect they have never had.

“When you have this kind of talent, which Southwest has never had before, it forces your opponents to prepare hard for you,” said Dana Wiley of Prep Films. “This program has never been at that elite level — where they expect to win every game. That’s a tremendous feeling to have.”

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