Mike Hayde walked across the field with tears in his eyes, embracing his players, coaches and making his way toward the fans who had made their way up to Gainesville to watch his team do something they hadn't been able to do in four previous tries - win a state title.
Hayde's loyalty to those fans who supported his team - win or lose - was evident as he talked to mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who had bled gold and black and who went through the tough losses to North Florida Christian and Jacksonville Trinity Christian with this team.
While many felt that the thrilling win over unbeaten Blountstown would send the Wellesley, Ma. Native packing in search for another challenge, perhaps they didn't know the man they were dealing with.
While there was a time when Hayde would have departed southern Polk County for another area, the community has grown on this 38-year-old who has put the program back on the map. He loves his players and coaches and would do just about anything for this community.
"Mike Hayde is the kind of coach who wears his emotions on his sleeve," said FloridaKids.us Publisher Larry Blustein. "I have gotten to know him well over the past few years, and I have respected him more and more for his dedication and work ethic."
There is no mistake that Hayde's teams are loaded with overachievers. While there's the occasional stars who emerge, most of the Miners are made up of smaller, quicker athletes who are high school tough and have proven that they can compete against anyone at any level.
It was only fitting that last year, when Tallahassee's North Florida Christian and Jacksonville Trinity Christian failed to get to the biggest stage in the state of Florida, the Miners would beat a potent Blountstown program that was looking for the same respect as Hayde's Miners.
"Fort Meade would not be denied," said Blustein. "You could tell that they would have an answer for just about everything Blountstown threw at them. It was Hayde's year to shine."
In Fort Meade, rebuilding isn't something you find in the dictionary. In fact, it's a word that this program seldom used to talk about one of its teams. They don't lose at home, and often have the speed and quickness to dominate you in every phase of the game on the road as well.
As this team gets ready for the 2005 season, several questions will be asked of a program that lost stars like Brian Whitehurst, Anthony Johnson, Tony Huntley, Daniel Huddlin, Wesley Wright, David Barfield and Andrew Smith.
But as quick as you start feeling sad for all the standouts who left, the Class of 2006 has some quality replacements who have the talent to achieve some great things. There are also some 2007 players who could make some noise as well.
Halfback Roderick Clark appears to be the star of this class. The 5-7, 155-pounder had 256 total yards a year ago. Receiver Michael Williams (6-2, 175) is another player to look for. Last year he caught three touchdown passes.
Jesse Escobar is yet another star on the horizon. The 6-0, 180-pound receiver/linebacker had 67 tackles, 2 sacks and 6 pass pressures last season.
Wide receiver/safety Bradley McMillan (6-2, 170) also returns to a lineup where he registered 13 tackles. Two-way (OL/LB) starter Jon Pickens (6-0, 190) brings his 20 pancake blocks and 13 tackles back to the Miners for the 2005 season.
Wide receiver/safety Keith Mobley (6-2, 180) and center/linebacker Brandon Rhoden (5-9, 185) have also shown promise.
As impressive as the rising senior class appears, the Class of 2007 is also talented. Last year, fullback/linebacker Henry Grace (6-0, 210) had 359 yards and 5 TD on offense, and dazzled defensively with 105 tackles, 4 fumble recoveries.
Also expected to impact the team are Daniel Grant (6-2, 190), Charles McGhee (6-1, 175), who could move in at quarterback, Kornell Howard (6-0, 170), Antwon Burke (6-0, 165), Cepeda Fulse, Victor Martin (6-1, 245) and one of the state's top rising junior prospects in lineman Micah Grimes, a 6-5, 285-pounder.
"Grimes may have been as responsible for the success in the state championship game as anyone," said Blustein. "He runs extremely well, has great strength and is a future star. He is just 16!"
There you have a look at another team who figures to make an impact and a run for Miami, the site of the 2005 State Championships.
Craig Perkins, a resident of Fort Lauderdale, recently joined the staff of www.floridakids.us. Having covered high school football in upstate New York for 10 years as well as serving as a recruiting analyst for several newspapers, Perkins now covers the University of Miami, Miami Dolphins, Florida Marlins and Florida Panthers for the South Florida Sun-Times Newspaper. You can reach Perkins at PrepPage1@aol.com.
2004 1A State Champs
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