Jeff Bertani rarely forgets the faces and names of his players.
So when he saw a photo of Rudy Eugene --the man now known as the "face eating" naked man shot dead by Miami police over the weekend on the MacArthur Causeway -- the hairs on the back of Bertani's neck stood up.
The veteran high school football coach at North Miami Beach Senior High recognized Eugene almost instantly.
"He didn't play for me very long -- one season -- but I'm pretty good with faces," Bertani said. "No doubt he played for us. It's still pretty shocking to know that guy played for us."
Bertani, entering his 16th season as the head coach of the Chargers, said Eugene spent three years at North Miami Beach High, but only played for him as a junior in 1998.
The Herald has reported that Eugene graduated from North Miami High in 2000. The Pioneers football coach then, Gil Lora, has been unreachable for comment.
"He was about 6-foot, 185-pounds, kind of a quiet, normal kid," Bertani said. "He was an average player, nothing special, played defensive end for us.
"I don't remember having any problems with him except at the end, when he said he was going to transfer to North Miami. Today, I kind of wish someone might have done more to help him."
Bertani said a few former players who knew Eugene after graduation stopped by his office today to talk about the shocking development over the weekend.
"Those guys had heard he had some problems, got involved with drugs and things like that, but none of them saw this coming," Bertani said. "We've had some kids get in scrapes with the law before. I had one convicted of murder.
"But nothing like this. This was shocking."
-- MANNY NAVARRO
ROYAL PALM BEACH – Two teams from Palm Beach County and one from Broward County – Atlantic Northeast and Palm Beach Gardens – have accepted invitations to fill out the field in the seventh annual Heath Evans Foundation 7-on-7 Championship on Saturday, June 9th.
The invitation-only tournament, which traditionally features many of the top programs in the state, will be held at The King’s Academy, Evans’ alma mater.
The trio will join 13 other teams, including reigning Class 8A champion Tampa Plant and Class 8A runner-up Miramar, who had previously accepted invitations to participate in one of the premier summer 7-on-7 tournaments in the country.
The Heath Evans Foundation 7-on-7 Championship, presented by Hulett Environmental, provides a glimpse at almost 100 major college prospects.
The talented field includes several teams who advanced deep into the 2011 FHSAA playoffs, including Dwyer, a Class 7A semifinalist; Miami Central, the Class 6A finalist, and Miami Booker T. Washington, the Class 4A finalist.
Also playing will be first-time participant Tampa Wharton as well as Cypress Bay, McArthur, Vero Beach, Miami Carol City, Ely, Chaminade-Madonna and host King’s Academy.
Teams will be split into divisions and play a round-robin format beginning at 9 a.m. After a lunch break, there will be single-elimination competition in the afternoon with the semifinals set for 3 p.m. and the championship game scheduled for 4 p.m.
In addition to the skill players, high school linemen will have their own competition.
The Chick-Fil-A Lineman’s Challenge features a series of events, including a combine-style bench press, an agility challenge course and head-to-head tire flip over a 30-yard course. An individual champion will be crowned as well as an overall team champion. Last year there was the Fastest Man Challenge, a 40-yard dash featuring one representative from each team.
The Heath Evans Foundation 7-on-7 Championship, presented by Hulett Environmental, is open to the public. Tickets are $5 person and available at the gate. The King’s Academy is located at 8401 Belvedere Road, approximately one mile east of 441.
Proceeds from this tournament will benefit the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit Heath Evans Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering hope and healing in the lives of children and families affected by sexual abuse. It is committed to breaking the cycle of abuse through healing the psychological, physical, and spiritual wounds inflicted on innocent children.
One in four girls and one in six boys before the age of 18 are sexually abused, according to national statistics.
“We want this to be a showcase event for the players but also to bring awareness to the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse,” said Evans, who played 10 years in the NFL as a fullback for the Saints, Patriots, Dolphins and Seahawks and is currently an analyst on the NFL Network.
For more information, visit www.HeathEvans.org.
St. Thomas Aquinas announced Monday it has hired baseball alum Troy Cameron as its new baseball coach. Cameron, a graduate of St. Thomas in 1997, was a USA Today first team All-American and was drafted in the first round (29th overall) that year by the Atlanta Braves.
Cameron played 10 seasons making it as high as Triple-A with the Braves, Indians, Rockies, White Sox and Padres before retiring in 2005.
When it came to running the football, nobody in Miami-Dade or Broward County had a better regular season than Hialeah-Miami Lakes senior Hakeem Lawrence.
The 5-8, 175-pound senior ran for 1,818 yards and 22 touchdowns and averaged a whopping 10.6 yards per carry for the Trojans, who finished 6-4 and played against three playoff teams -- American, Hialeah and Apopka. Lawrence, though, didn't sign a National Leatter of Intent back in February because nobody in the country wanted him.
His grades -- from his first two years at North Miami -- were a mess according to coach Kenan Lawhorne.
"His test score was pretty good. He had a 17 on his ACT. But when people looked at his transcript, they thought it was too big a black eye, didn't think he was capable of transforming himself. He's been playing catch up ever since," Lawhorne said.
Lawrence may have finally caught up to a scholarship. Monday, Lawhorne said he faxed Lawrence's transcripts over to Akron's compliance office. With all the classes he's taken to make up for his struggles, Lawhorne said: "if everything computes correctly Hakeem should get in."
"The kid deserves it," Lawhorne said. "He's worked really hard to make up for his mistakes. [Former N.C. State coach and Florid State assistant] Chuck Amato knows the kids from this area well. So, do those Bowden boys. They know the kids from this area can be special, special players with some guidance."
-- MANNY NAVARRO
After being relegated by the FHSAA to the Independents last season, Barrington Christian coach Don Chaney expects his football program to be playing for a state playoff spot again in 2012.
Chaney said Friday his team should be grouped back into District 8-2A this coming season with Dade Christian, Champagnat and South Florida HEAT. Two years ago, the Falcons won the District 8-1B title and lost in the first round 51-30 to eventual state champion Belle Glade Glades Day.
This past fall, Chaney said, his program had to go Independent because school officials didn't have the paperwork it needed to show it was properly accredited to be eligible to play in the FHSAA.
FHSAA spokesman Seth Polansky wrote in an email Friday that the FHSAA's Board of Directors will meet June 12th to decide whether to reinstate Barrington.
"It's not really just a formality. But with the FHSAA set to endorse Barrington Christian for reinstatement to full membership someone would have show evidence of the contrary," Polansky wrote in an email. "Also, Barrington has to get a game with every team in that district to then have a representative district schedule."
Chaney said he doesn't expect that to be a problem.
As for his team, with only two seniors on the roster and a boatload of sophomores and freshmen, Chaney said the Falcons will have to grow up quickly if they're going to have a shot at reaching the playoffs.
Chaney thinks the key is junior Maurice Suey, a 5-11, 170-pound first-year quarterback whom he says is very athletic and has good mechanics, "but needs a little bit of fine tuning."
"We played some good ball last year. We just didn't have a quarterback and that slowed us down," Chaney said. "Suhe, I think he'll be a great one. He's got a strong arm. Thing is his confidence. I look forward to seeing him out there and see what he has.
If you're looking for a leader, it's two-way linebacker/running back Devin Walker (5-8, 185), who had 76 solo tackles and 427 yards rushing last season and will once again be the voice on both sides of the ball. Junior defensive back Kamola Butler (5-8, 175) had six interceptions last season.
"Walker is short in stature, but his heart is as big as the twin towers. He's a very athletic kid who brings a lot to the table," Chaney said. "Butler doesn't say much, just a silent killer."
Offensive guard Marlo Sharpe (6-2, 297) is the team's top college prospect.
"Good feet. I call them dancing feet," Chaney said. "He's a little bit green. But he's tough and he works hard and I think he can really do somethings."
BARRINGTON CHRISTIAN FALCONS (2A-8)
> SPRING GAME: Homestead, May 24th at Harris Field, 7 p.m.
> 2011 Record: 5-5 (Independent)
> 2010 Record: 7-3 (District 8-1B champion, first round loss to Glades Day)
> COACH: Don Chaney (97-46 overall)
> TOP PLAYERS: Maurice Suey (QB, Jr.); Devin Walker (RB/LB, Sr.); Kamola Butler (DB/WR, Jr.); Joseph Mimms (C/DE, Jr.); Marquan Ford (OLB, Jr.); Marlo Sharpe (OG, Sr.); Travis Tucker (DT/OG, Jr.); Bennie Bowen (TE/DE, Sr.); Kevin Sheraton (LB, Jr.); Anthony Foster (DB, Jr.)
> OUTLOOK: Borderline playoff team in 2012.
- MANNY NAVARRO
By MANNY NAVARRO
At 6-4, 225 pounds and with a fastball that can top out at 94 miles per hour, Flanagan senior Jose Mesa Jr. often finds himself on another level when he faces high school hitters. And, that can get pretty boring.
The son of one of the greatest closers in major league history (his father ranks 14th all-time in saves), Mesa Jr. was back in domination mode Thursday night against visiting Douglas, giving up just two hits and striking out 12 over seven innings in a 6-1 victory over the Eagles in the Region 4-8A quarterfinals.
It was his fifth complete game of the season and raised his record to 9-1 while lowering his ERA to 1.03 on the year. The dozen strikeouts increased his season total to a Broward-best 127. He's also walked just 36 hitters in 74 2/3 innings.
With two no-hitters already in hand against district rival West Broward, Mesa Jr. will get the ball again next Tuesday when the Falcons (18-4) try to beat the Bobcats (19-4) next Tuesday in the regional semifinals for the fourth time this season.
The last time out, West Broward pushed Mesa Jr. hard, collecting 10 hits off him along with three earned runs. Flanagan emerged with a 4-3 win in 11 innings. But the 10 hits allowed, Mesa Jr. said Thursday, sserved as a wake up call for him.
"Not to say where team's haven't touched me, but I haven't faced adversity like I had in that game," said Mesa Jr., who suffered his only loss of the season to Venice in the Sarasota Baseball Classic on March 13th.
"I gave up 10 hits, but the good was I was still able to get back and hold them to just three runs. It was an eye opener for me to come back, to work hard and get ahead [in the count] the whole game."
Mesa Jr. did that Thursday, using a 88 to 90 mile per hour fastball according to scouts, and a slider to hold the Eagles to just two hits and an unearned run over the first three innings. After that, though, Flanagan coach Ray Evans said Mesa Jr. began to use his curveball and only got stronger. Mesa Jr. retired the final 14 hitters he faced -- 10 via the strikeout.
"He's probably right now, in talking to most of the scouts, he's definitely the best [pitcher] in Broward County," Evans said. "He's got four pitches and we don't even use one. There's no reason to use the changeup when he's throwing that hard. That's a pitch they could actually hit.
"I haven't seen a guy [grow] from his 10th grade year to his senior year like he has, the strides he's made. He's gotten to a point where he for the last couple weeks he was sort of stagnant. He was throwing and they weren't hitting him, but he wasn't getting better. But this game tonight proved a lot. He got stronger as the game went along, sharper with his breaking ball, sharper with his slider. He took command. I think he's one of the best, if not the best."
Mesa Jr. signed with Seminole State Community College in Ocala, but could potentially go straight the pros if the money is right.
Of course, he's not worried about that right now. He's just still trying to get better and saving his fourth pitch for when he really needs it.