Ready or Not
After a summer with its program in turmoil, Miami Northwestern gets its shot at top-ranked Southlake Carroll
The game between No. 1 Southlake ( Texas) Carroll and No. 2 Miami Northwestern this Saturday night in Dallas is a rare matchup of the top two teams in the country, a showcase for at least 20 Division I-A prospects. And for the Bulls of Northwestern it will be an opportunity to prove they've overcome a scandal that rocked their school's administration, tarnished last year's 15--0 season and led to the firing of the football coaching staff just two months ago.
"People were really hurt, because those coaches were like brothers and father figures to a lot of guys on the team," says senior defensive tackle Marcus Forston. "The only thing we could do was suck it up and move on." Forston and senior quarterback Jacory Harris ran workouts until the school hired Billy Rolle on July 20; Rolle had coached the Bulls from 1997 through 2000 (winning a state title in '98), before going to neighboring Killian High. "It's like he never left the program," says Forston. "He's always had a love for the Bulls."
LAST DEC. 7 then senior star running back Antwain Easterling was arrested on charges of lewd and lascivious battery on a minor stemming from a consensual sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in a bathroom at Northwestern three months earlier. The girl's mother had reported the incident in October to three faculty members, and though one of them reportedly informed principal Dwight Bernard, no one notified authorities. Miami police only found out on Dec. 5, after the girl's mother happened to ask an unknowing member of the Miami-Dade schools' police how the investigation was going.
Easterling confessed and was freed on bail the day he was arrested. Though school board policy mandates a 10-day suspension for sexual battery, Bernard took no such action against Easterling and allowed him to play in the Florida 6A title game on Dec. 9. Easterling rushed for 157 yards in a 34--14 victory over Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley.
In June a grand jury indicted Bernard, who was removed as principal in March after the alleged cover-up became public, with official misconduct. In July athletic director Gregory Killings resigned and Miami-Dade schools superintendent Rudy Crew dismissed 21 teachers, counselors and coaches—including football coach Roland Smith and his staff—who allegedly knew of the incident but failed to report it. Crew also put the football team on a one-year probation and tightened eligibility requirements. Easterling, now a freshman at Southern Miss, entered a pretrial diversion program; if he fulfills the requirements, the charge will be dropped from his record.
THIS EDITION of the Bulls (2--0) could be the best one ever. Forston, who had 20 sacks and led the defense to seven straight shutouts last year, and Harris, who completed 68.1% of his pass attempts for 2,920 yards and 37 touchdowns, are among seven seniors who are considered blue-chip prospects. But rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell says the key to this game will be discipline, not talent. "Northwestern has more talent, but the guys at Southlake are a machine; they can put 50 up on anybody," he says. "Can Northwestern avoid penalties? Will individuals try to do too much?"
After the recent turmoil, those aren't bad worries to have.
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