TAMPA — Five months after Isaiah Laurencin’s death, Miramar football coach Damon Cogdell said the wound has yet to heal and the pain still lingers.
Long before the Patriots landed in Saturday’s Class 8A state title game against Plant, the football team received a new purpose that has propelled it within one win from its goal — a second state championship in three years.
Miramar entered the season as one of the favorites in the realigned 8A classification, but the events of July 26 put football in perspective.
That was when rising senior Laurencin, a 6-foot-3, 286-pound offensive tackle who played on Miramar’s 2009 championship team, collapsed in the middle of a summer conditioning drill. He went into cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma that evening. Early the next morning he died, just two weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
“We were already a closely-bonded team,” Cogdell said on a conference call Monday. “That was a wound with a Band-Aid on it, and we had to overcome it and take that Band-Aid off.”
Laurencin reportedly passed a Florida High School Athletic Association required physical to participate in offseason conditioning. But his death prompted a new Broward County rule that prevents summer workouts from being held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — the hottest part of the day.
Once preseason practice started — the offseason workouts ceased after Laurencin’s death — the Patriots dedicated their season to their teammate.
“We were at 100 percent before everything happened,” defensive tackle Willie Paisley told the Sun Sentinel on the first day of practice in August. “Now it’s like 150 percent.”
The Patriots beat every team in their path, rising to No. 3 in the USA Today and MaxPreps national rankings. The highlights: a road win over national power St. Thomas Aquinas and a 14-6 win over Miami Columbus in the state semifinals.
Before the Patriots began their postseason run, Miramar retired Laurencin’s No. 76 jersey on senior night.
“We overcame a lot this season with our fallen teammate, Isaiah Laurencin, and we knew we just have to keep this going,” senior running back D’Vontis Arnold told the Miami Herald after the win over Columbus. “We did it together as a family.”
Miramar boasts one U.S. Army All-America cornerback, senior Tracy Howard, who has nine interceptions and is ranked the third-best prospect in Florida and the nation’s 13th best recruit.
Howard is the backbone of a secondary that has 33 interceptions, 12 by free safety Marrell Jackson. Junior linebacker Jermaine Grace is already getting looks from the likes of Alabama, Florida, FSU and West Virginia.
Quarterback Camren Hudge has thrown for 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns and has a pair of Division I-A recruits as targets in Malcolm Lewis (a Miami commit) and Devonte Mathis (West Virginia commit).
Together, the Patriots not only bring a talented team to the Citrus Bowl, but one determined to win for Laurencin.
Shortly before he died, Laurencin posted a message on Facebook proclaiming Miramar would win the state title. Several players printed out that message and brought it to the state semifinal game.
“The wound never will be healed completely but it sure did give our kids a boost for this young man,” Cogdell said. “He won’t be forgotten.”
Coach: Damon Cogdell (fifth season)
How it advanced: d. South Plantation 38-0, d. Weston Cypress Bay 23-7, d. Palm Beach Gardens 35-7, d. Miami Columbus 14-6
Previous best: 2009 (won Class 6A state title)
Photo courtesy of South Florida Sun-Sentinel