By Brandon Odoi
Author’s note: This article was intended to be saved as a draft on May 16th when it was originally posted. It was not ready for publication as I was still gathering information from around the leagues to include. Due to the numerous comments, however, to the premature posting of the blog (a mistake I take responsibility for) I will not delete it. I’m completing the original train of thought and then going back and responding to the comments written after it’s complete. I did not read the comments prior to completing the blog, as not to be influenced by what was written.
I’m excited about how many people are taking the time out to produce preview’s for their respective leagues. As a youth football journalist, I thought it wise that I get in on the action also. I want to give props out to Tavaris, Steve and Coach J who each did a wonderful job of previewing the talent in the coming year in the SFYFL, AYFL, Miami Xtreme and NYFL respectively. I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in and take a look at the entire South Florida Youth Football Landscape.
Let’s take a look at which leagues will be the most exciting:
In 2010, one of the most exciting leagues by far was Miami Pop Warner. This league put four teams in the National Championship and came away with two crowns. But it was not just those teams that made national headwaves, it was just the overall depth of the league and weekly competition that made this league the most solid from top to bottom in my opinion last season. Most notably at the Midget (160 lb) level.
I think that youth football is at its most competitive and exciting level at the 12-14 year old age group. It’s for this reason that I feel that SFYFL will be the most intriguing league in 2011, followed closely by the AYFL and Pop Warner.
Last year, Miami Pop Warner really stood out because the Midget division was absolutely loaded with talent. From eventual champ Overtown to the two time defending champion Richmond Giants, the division was stacked. This division was not only loaded with great players, but with outstanding coaching. See Crummie, Knight, Smith and Alford.
But there will be a changing of the guards. In 2011, SFYFL’s 135 pound division will be loaded. Here’s the rundown.
First, all eyes will be on the Miami Gardens Vikings, those talented runners up from last years 120 pound title game. They meet a capable and experience staff lead by Jester “Buddy” Bailey. Both the kids and the coach have to win it all, and that kind of pressure is not something opponents are going to enjoy during the season. After the first game against the Miami Gardens Ravens (a must see), the Vikings 135s schedule is extremely friendly giving them a b-line to a No. 1 seed in the south division.
Heading up north you’ll see a combination of Ft. Lauderdale Hurricanes and the NW Broward Radiers battling for supremacy. Last year’s NWB team fell just shy of the title. A few of those players are able to return, most notably the “do everything” quarterback nicknamed “LJ.” But coach Johnny “Mal” Gaines and his ‘Canes will have something to say about the 135 pound crown also. Remember, he’s just a year removed from a superbowl title and returns Rodrick Allen, a speedy RB/WR who is an absolute game changer and probably the best overall athlete coming back to play youth football in 2011. If Gaines’ son doesn’t play high school varsity ball, Gaines Jr. will return to the Canes and add to an already skillful backfield for the boys at Mills Pond. There’s plenty to like in this division.
Though the favorites in the SFYFL 135 pound division are really strong, keep and eye on sleeper teams in the SFYFL’s 135 lb division: Defending 135 pound champion Miami Gardens Ravens (not sure if they have enough fire power coming back) Lauderhill (returns a decent amount of talent from last year’s120’s) Lauderdale Lakes (perennial bowl contender) and Northside (120’s champ).
Now, turning attention to the AYFL. Here’s a league that is growing increasingly competitive as each year goes along. The reasons are two fold. First, the secret is finally getting out. There is a high probability that kids who shine in the AYFL can set themselves up for getting scholarships to play in high school at some of Broward’s most storied programs. Those kids who don’t get scholarships are often starters as 9th and 10th graders at public school powerhouses. The names Rigby, White, Dayes and Hallmon confirm this as fact.
The second reason is because AYFL continues to welcome talent from the other four competitive leagues in South Florida each year and it is balancing the teams out and bringing more parity (Plantation, Pasedena and Northwest to name a few). And parity is something this leauge can use a lot more of because the past two years, Pembroke Pines Optimist have seen a winning percentage of over 80% overall on each age and weight class. That’s slowly beginning to change.
Pay attention to the 120 pound weight class this year. A stacked PPO team will face a stiff challenge from two-time returning champion on the 100 and 110 pound weight class, the Weston Warriors. Dave Demeter has done a great job of getting it done the past two years and he’ll be the man to beat as his son directs the offense and the team continues to buy in to the Warrior brand of football, going for three straight. Those two will both be challenged by West Pembroke Pines who has consistently snipped at the heels of Weston the past two years and met them in each championship game falling by only a few points total. Then the large question that remains unanswered is what will happen over at Cooper City. If Rocky Morgan goes up from last year’s 90 pound bowl championship to coach at the 120 pound level, it could make for a great season. Wherever he’s gone the past two years, he’s won. Expect this year to be no different.
Then finally, in Pop Warner, there are so many changes that have taken place this off season that it’s really hard to tell where to place focus. Notwithstanding, look for the most competitive pound to be the Pee Wees (120s). The is a lot to like here. You’ve got Coach Rob Jones moving up from the Jr. Pee Wees at Liberty City with a national championship runner-up team meeting Coach Cory Smith (Gwen Cherry) who is moving down from his semi-final finish on the Midgets last year. Coach Rob should have the strong and speedy Cory Hammett returning at running back #44. Hammett is probably the most talented kid returning to play in Greater Miami Pop Warner with a nod to Ericwoody Charles down at Florida City.
Then you’ve got both an Overtown and Northwest Boys & Girls Club teams who will compete in a division that was very strong last year (Jr. Pee Wees).
In Pop Warner, the strongest park appears to be Gwen Cherry heading in. The addition of Joe Narcisse from Liberty City as the Jr. Pee Wee coach makes things look very promising at “the cherry.” Remember, both their 70 and 80 pound teams won the Superbowl last year. So they’ll now be really tough to beat at 80s (Bandits), 90s (Mighty Mite), 105s (Jr. Pee Wee), Pee Wee and Midget Pounds (their 2010 Jr. Midget team finished strong).
These are just a couple of weight classes to look for strong competition in across the South Florida youth football landscape. And of course, as the season develops we’ll see a couple teams pop up out of no where in the race for the championship. Looking forward to an exciting 2011 Youth Football Season.