Roland Smith called me back this morning to talk about his new job coaching the defending state champion Miami Central football team.
The Rockets officially hired Smith Wednesday to replace Telly Lockette, who was hired to be the running backs coach at the University of South Florida in March.
Smith returns to coaching high school football in Miami-Dade County after six seasons away. Smith had been teaching at North Miami Middle School.
"I’m very excited for this opportunity and grateful to Miami Central for offering it to me," said Smith in a phone interview Thursday morning. "I’ve got a lot of energy and I’m excited to get back and help these guys try to win another state title and excel on the national level."
Smith guided his alma mater Northwestern to a state championship and a perfect 15-0 season in 2006. Smith was then removed along with the majority of his coaching staff at the time by former Dade schools superintendent Rudy Crew in the wake of the scandal involving former Bulls running back Antwain Easterling.
Smith and his coaches were cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter in the ensuing months.
During his six seasons as Northwestern’s coach, Smith led the Bulls to a 69-13 record (best of any team during that span), a state title, a state runner-up finish in 2001, and state semifinal appearances in 2002 and 2005.
Smith had been rumored to be in the running for a few premier coaching vacancies in recent years, including Northwestern and Booker T. Washington, before they hired their current coaches.
"I didn’t want to rush into just any situation," Smith said. "When Central contacted me I was at the Youth Fair with my son, and I was excited they had me in mind. I told them I needed a little time to think about it. The great thing is I get to coach again with a lot of guys that coached with me in the past and have done an excellent job here [at Central]. I’m so proud and happy to get a chance to coach with them again."
Smith takes over a Central program that ranks among the nation’s best, having won two Class 6A state championships in the past three seasons under Lockette, who guided the Rockets to a 60-10 record in five seasons.
Smith said he was set to meet with his new team Thursday afternoon.
Central has advanced to three consecutive state finals and have not lost to a Dade opponent since 2008.
In hopes of making it three championships in four years, the Rockets will take on a challenging schedule this coming season that includes a trip to New Jersey to take on national powerhouse Don Bosco Prep and games against defending Class 4A state champion Booker T. Washington, Class 3A champion Davie University School, Plantation American Heritage, Norland, Northwestern, Carol City, Homestead and Coral Reef.
If someone told you that south Florida is home to nearly 200 football high level prospects for the upcoming season, it may be hard to believe.
But if you look at all the players - Class of 2014 through 2016 - you have more football talent than anywhere in the country. In three counties - alone - there will be more signees next February to major schools than any other region in the nation.
Thanks to an off season that has showcased a number of local standouts at camps, combines and 7-on-7 events, offers to some of the best programs in the country are coming daily.
While many of the elite prospects have already been offered, talked about and evaluated, there are a few - who are running track or just doing their own training - that have a chance to be special.
When the South Florida Fire 7-on-7 squad played in Boynton Beach last Saturday - coach Dennis Marroquin's team needed a few players to plug in against competition that came from as far away as Cocoa. When the team arrived at the field, and many saw who the Fire would have throwing for them on this day, there were smiles from those who came to watch, evaluate and play.
Quenton "Winky" Flowers, who many had tried to get on their off season team for two years, officially made his 7-on-7 debut for the year. By the time day had finished and the Fire won the title, there wasn't a player on hand who didn't know who this 6-foot, 200-pounder was.
The 7-on-7 circuit is certainly not new to Flowers. Two years ago, playing with his Jackson squad as a sophomore, he threw for over 1,000 yards in a two-day tournament that eventually landed the Generals in the national championship game in Minnesota, representing the Miami Dolphins.
Flowers, one of those athletic and gifted quarterbacks that everyone has playing defensive back or receiver at the next level, sliced through some of the elite secondary performers - letting people know that this is a quarterback and not just some athlete playing the position.
In a sport that often requires its quarterbacks to be taller and have more polish, Flowers, much like Teddy Bridgewater (Northwestern) before him - relies on instinct and a throwing arm that launches balls 70 plus yards.
"To tell you the truth, if a college doesn't want to give me a legitimate shot at playing quarterback, then I am not their man," Flowers explained. "I have worked too hard and out too much time into playing this position."
Not that Flowers couldn't be one of the best defensive backs, running backs or receivers, but this is someone who loves this position. He was born to move those chains with his arm and feet - and that's what gives him the right to want to give the position a try at the next level.
Surrounded by young and inexperienced players a year ago, Flowers guided the Generals three rounds deep in the playoffs. Not one player did more for his team - statewide - than he did.
The fact that he hadn't been to many off season events - or had a number of recruiting fan websites watch him play, Flowers wasn't rated where many felt he should be. While the offers are coming in slow, the fact that he is now fully on everyone's radar is what will make this year very special.
"I have watched Flowers play since he was in the ninth grade," said Charles Fishbein of Elite Scouting Services. "This is another Anquan Bolden. Someone who dominated as a quarterback/safety in high school, but eventually moved to receiver at FSU. He is that same kind of impact football player."
KEEP WATCHING THESE 2016 PLAYERS
We know that the Classes of 2014 and 2015 are loaded with impact performers. Not to fall behind in the talent race, the athletes coming up for 2016 are also going to be very special.
Among those rising sophomores who have already turned heads include quarterbacks Tyler Huntley (Hallandale) and Kato Nelson (Hollywood McArthur), .
Running backs Mehki Ervan (Miami Coral Reef), Corey Lane (Miami Northwestern), Amir Rasul (Miami Christopher Columbus) and Mark Walton (Miami Booker T. Washington) are also impressive. So are receivers Sam Bruce (University School), Kama Barnes (Hialeah Miami Lakes), Khevani Francois (Homestead South Dade), Elbre Gaiter (Miami Westminster Christian), Michael Iamunno, (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), Dionte Mullins, Miami Gulliver Prep), Dredrick Snelson (Plantation American Heritage) and Darnell Solomon (Hollywood Hills).
Offensive linemen Michael Davis (Homestead South Dade), Rene Rodriguez (South Miami) and Miramar's Maurice Wilson are promising.
Defensively, linemen Nicholas Bosa (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), Bryce Handy (Miami Christopher Columbus) and Northwestern's Keir Thomas are special.
Linebackers Shakur Cooper (Coral Gables), Yean Gonzalez (Miami Ferguson), Nick John (Miami Palmetto) and James Sutton (Miami Westminster Christian) are going to be very good. As will be secondary performers Dicaprio Bootle (Miami Killian), Ivan Smith (Miami Christopher Columbus), James Wiggins (Homestead South Dade) and Cedrick Wright (Homestead).
We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. All you have to do is send a You Tube or Hudl link and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein at Floridakids1@aol.com.
Follow Larry on Twitter at twitter.com/larryblustein.