Miami Gulliver begins every practice commemorating the late Sean Taylor, the former two-way star with the Raiders and safety with the University of Miami and Washington Redskins who was fatally gunned down in his own home in November 2007.
Coach Earl Sims has his players come together in a moment of silence while facing the scoreboard that bears Taylor’s name. The players then put a lone index finger in the air to honor Taylor as their No. 1 and begin a thunderous rally of claps before practice begins.
The ritual, while also paying homage to the man so iconic in football circles around Miami-Dade County, also reminds current Raiders that what they’re playing for transcends themselves.
“It means something to put on this uniform, and it’s a family of guys who wore this uniform before them, and Sean Taylor, of course we tell [our players] about him,” said Sims, who is going into his seventh year with the program. “Periodically throughout the year, we show some of his highlights, and we speak about the legacy that he has left behind on this field.”
Gulliver will try to translate Taylor’s greatness that it commemorates every day into greatness of its own on the gridiron in 2012.
The Raiders, who reached the 4A regional finals and lost to district foe Booker T. Washington last season, understand that although they may have improved, so have Monsignor Pace and Miami Edison in this district that only allows two teams to qualify for the postseason.
“We can’t live off what we did last year because what we did last year allowed us to have what we had last year,” Sims says. “If we live off our reputation, we’re nothing. We have to put forth a product this year to ensure success.”
Making matters even more challenging for Gulliver is the fact that it doesn’t stack up with most of its opponents numbers-wise.
According to Sims, the Raiders currently have “55 to 60” players on both the varsity and junior varsity squads, with the rosters yet to be divided.
“It’s pretty much like that every year, though,” senior running back Bo Ellis said. “Coach Sims knows that, and that’s why he has us out here conditioning. We condition more than, I would say, any other school in Dade County, and probably anywhere else.”
Ellis, a 5-8, 185-pounder ranked the No. 25 senior in Dade going into the season, wants to be the featured back, but he believes the team doesn’t lose a beat whenever another back enters the game.
“I would say I bring a toughness to the team in the backfield, and that’s just something that all our running backs have really,” Ellis said.
At quarterback, Gulliver has brought in two transfers to compete for the starting job — Alonzo Fanakos and Jowan Watson. Fanakos is a junior, who came from Booker T, and Watson is a sophomore. They both bring a threat of the run that was absent in Gulliver’s quarterback play a year ago.
“They’re eager to learn and work hard, and basically that’s all we need,” Sims says. “We have leadership among the other guys, and we’re just going to help them with the adjustment, the transition into our offense.”
Sims is not ready to announce a leader in the quarterback battle and says both will receive equal reps in the Preseason Classic Friday at Tarpon Springs as he hopes to find his starter after that game.
Whoever wins the competition knows he’ll have some solid targets to throw the ball to, in the form of a couple of Gulliver’s trademark two-way athletes.
Wide receiver/defensive end Stacy Thomas comes in as the No. 9 senior in the Dade Top 25, and wide receiver/defensive back Cornelius Floyd is ranked 19th among Dade juniors.
Thomas takes pride in his ability to draw attention from opponents in hopes of facilitating the game for his teammates
“A lot of teams already know what I’m capable of doing, so a lot of teams will be prowling on me and that’ll free up chances for other people that we have to make plays,” Thomas said.
The versatile Thomas is listed as a four-star outside linebacker on Rivals.com and is ranked 11th in the nation at that position. He’s also being recruited by Florida to play tight end.