Larry Blustein

Flanagan football team a true contender

Devin Bush remembers when it happened. The time and place where his Flanagan High football program had finally turned that corner and became a team that was no longer a pretender in the race to get to the state championship game.

“After the year of playing top-flight teams such as Lakeland on the road and coming up short, it was a game last year against Sanford Seminole,” Bush recalled. “When we went up there and won that game. I looked every player on this team and told them that we had indeed arrived.”

Bush was right. The former Hialeah-Miami Lakes, Florida State University and NFL standout defensive back, who took over the Falcons last season, knew that once his program could beat a quality opponent on the road. He could tell them that they had arrived — and using that win — this football program had the best season on school history, finishing 9-1 in the regular season and narrowly losing to power Deerfield Beach in a game that this program could have easily won.

“Last year was one of those seasons where you can honestly look at this football program and say that the corner had been turned,” Bush explained. “We can no longer settle for moral victories and second-place prizes. To tell you the truth, we fully expect to be in Orlando in December and playing for that 8A state title.”

As he watched his team mature over the past season, Bush knows that this is a football program that not only has the talent, but now has the experience to win those close games — and it all starts on offense, where this team really has the talent to come out on top.

Led by rising senior quarterback Ryan Stanley (6-2, 185) and sophomore Stanford Samuels (5-11, 165), the Falcons have the most promising pair of quarterbacks in south Florida. Both have proven that they can move this team and have what it takes to make the offense special.

“I think people were looking at this team as a more defensive program this year,” Bush pointed out. “But this offense is stronger and more experienced than last year — and that’s what will set us apart.”

With a more confident Stanley, who enters his fourth season at the varsity level, this unit can boast some quality football talent. Senior receivers Robert Foy (5-11, 190), Keavon Mitchell (6-0, 170), Walter Jackson (5-11, 190), Paul Clarke (5-7, 140), Stanley Poisson (6-1, 160) and University of Miami commitment Emonee Spence (6-3, 190), and tight ends Bradley Martin (6-2, 190) and Deandre Hampton (6-0, 190) provide plenty of firepower. Add in juniors Tyler Peppers (6-3, 165), Keith Coffee (6-2, 170), Isaiah Collins (5-7, 150) and Maurice Codner (5-10, 165) and the quality depth is in place.

“We wanted to build a program where if one player went down, we wouldn’t struggle,” Bush said. “If I found out anything in my years of playing this game, it’s a deep team is a successful team.”

In the spring, the Falcons found out plenty about how much balance the offense had, especially at running back where seniors Michael Francis (5-9, 170), transfer Arkeem Granger (6-0, 210) and gifted sophomore Anthony Johnson (5-9, 160) all gave this team plenty of speed, athleticism and talent.

In addition, the offensive line, which was viewed as a spot that needed the most improvement, showed why this unit will be in great hands. Seniors Cameron Campbell (6-3, 255), Darnell Brown (5-9, 230), Kevin Lambert (6-2, 260), Brandon Salmon (5-8, 285) and Bryanna Pages (6-0, 215) received plenty of help from juniors Isaiah Murray (6-3, 215), Sean Remmey (6-2, 305) and Giovannie Ramos (6-1, 265) — as well as sophomores Anthony Vega (6-0, 265), Marcus Etienne (5-11, 235) and Jamar Lambert, a 6-4, 340-pounder.

While the offense has been a huge surprise, the defense will be as solid as ever — with perhaps the most impressive and deep group you will find anywhere. Leading the way is Bush’s son Devin Jr., a highly recruited junior who stands 6-0, 215-pounds is among the best in the country. Joining Bush Jr. are seniors Donte Brown (5-9, 180), Western transfer Adrienne Talon (6-1, 200) and Jordan Clarke (5-11, 200), and juniors Natrone Ray (5-11, 230), Michael Bowe (6-2, 205) and Nicky Donadel (6-0, 195).

“While we are strong at linebacker, our defensive front is quick and athletic,” Bush said. “Seniors such as Jawan Roulhac (5-11, 190), Julian Wright (5-11, 185) and Emanuel Strachan(6-1, 180), and junior Dennis Jackson, a 5-11, 255-pounder.”

The Falcons’ secondary is another place that improvement will be noticed. Seniors Bradley Hall (6-2, 180), Willie Williams (6-2, 160), Raekwon Johns (5-8, 155), Jackie Senat (5-11, 160), Nicoli McCarthy (5-11, 180) and Jamal Souffrant (5-7. 155), Will Viveiros (6-2, 170), and a strong underclass - led by gifted Devin Gil (6-1, 205), Rocco Marucci (6-1, 160), Mark Pleffner (6-0, 190), Charles Williams (5-10, 175) and Joshua Metellus (5-10, 180).

“Our goal this past year was to assemble a team where quality depth would be in place,” Bush admitted. “I think we certainly accomplished that.”

In addition to a tough district that features Miramar, Cypress Bay and Everglades, the Falcons will get a challenge from Miami Norland as well.