South Dade has the chance to advance to its first football state final Friday
BY AKILAH LASTER | Senior Writer
Making school history is not enough for the South Dade Buccaneers.
Their sights are on a bigger goal – a state title.
One game away from playing in the programs first ever football state championship, but more immediately, a few days away from playing in its first state semifinal the Buccaneers (12-1) are keeping the formula simple – humility and family.
“It’s a total group effort and we’re not content just yet,” said head coach Nathaniel Hudson Jr.
The Buccaneers have been determined from the start. Coming off of a relatively successful 2012 season where they’d won a district 16-8A title and made it to the regional semis before collapsing to district rival Killian, the Buccaneers approached this season with a clearer picture.
“The guys have that experience and we try to simulate and establish a lot of things based on last year’s success,” Hudson said. “Everybody understands what’s at stake.”
Hudson, a South Dade alum, was steadfast in changing the culture of a program that had never made it past a regional final. Prior to Hudson’s arrival South Dade was coming off of a 5-5 no-post season year.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to coach here,” Hudson said. “The culture alone is exciting and I really want to first and foremost establish a family setting.”
But Hudson, excited to return to his alma mater, made an immediate difference.
“Our mentality is that we have to care about each other,” Hudson said. “We use that in motivating the kids to play for one another.”
It is that familial bond that players like senior receiver and FSU commit C.J. Worton, whose brothers also played for South Dade, say make the difference.
“It’s been an amazing season – watching everything and everyone come together,” said Worton, 17. “They preach family and we put each other above self.”
Coveted running back Johnnie Hankins, who has 11 touchdowns on the season and has interest from Missouri, University of Miami, Duke, and Florida State, said that Hudson’s coaching best fits his needs as a player, and it’s because of the culture and system in place at South Dade he’s had so much success in this season.
“I knew [coming to South Dade] was what I wanted because I needed to be in a place that was focused and got me mentally ready,” said Hankins, a transfer from Homestead. “Coach Hudson made us grow into men and made sure we’d be ready for anything.”
Hudson’s formula appears to be working with a 22-4 overall record since he’s arrived.
The program’s family-first atmosphere has appealed to many players in the area; attracting more transfers like Dade County’s No. 2 quarterback Kahlil Render, from neighborhood rival Homestead – who the Bucs have beaten in the “Battle of Lucy Street” two seasons in a row.
With three of their offensive players in Top 10 for rushing, receiving, and passing, South Dade is poised to see Orlando next week. But it has not just been the offensive onslaught that has gotten the Bucs to this point, but their defensive efforts have been more than commendable.
The defense has only allowed teams 10.5 points per game on average.
Five Bucs players are in the Top 10 in four statistical categories for Miami-Dade County including James Wiggins, Doyle Grimes, Derek Nottage, Tyree Horton, and Cayman Battle.
Hudson said that the defensive players have filled key positions from last year.
“They’ve skyrocketed from zero to 10,” Hudson said. “They’ve really stepped it up.”
The one snafu the Bucs had this season came in an unexpected 21-13 regular season loss to Killian, which was a wakeup call to the players.
“We thought we were unbeatable,” Worton said. “It forced us to look ourselves in the mirror and not overlook any opponent.”
“We learned that any team can be beat at any moment and to not look too far ahead,” Hankins added.
Since that loss the Bucs have bounced back with a five game win streak that has taken them to within reach of a state title.
But according to Hankins in won’t mean a thing if they do not win it all.
“We want more than history,” Hankins said. “We want that ring.”