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Florida Memorial holds ‘emotional’ first spring game after inaugural season was cut short

Andre C. Fernandez
·4 min read

Tim “Ice” Harris didn’t cry after experiencing the thrills of winning four state championships at Booker T. Washington High School.

But on Friday night as his new team’s bus approached Traz Powell Stadium, Harris says the emotions got to him.

“What we did today was historic, and knowing that, I cried on the way here knowing that we had an opportunity to play again,” said Harris, a former assistant coach at the University of Miami.

There was football again for Florida Memorial University, an NAIA school heading into its second season with Harris as its head coach, on Friday night in the stadium that will be the home of the Lions this fall.

But the Lions can’t wait until it’s time to play there on Saturdays.

Less than a year after having its first football season in 62 years cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida Memorial University conducted its first Blue (Offense) vs. White (Defense) spring game, won by the offense 24-21.

It was the culmination of its first full spring season during which the Lions were able to conduct 15 practices, three scrimmages and 34 sessions overall counting walk-throughs.

“It’s fun just playing again,” said freshman wide receiver Markell Lee, who caught a 33-yard touchdown pass during the scrimmage. “We’re the faces of this program, and we can build this school up and make it a way better program.”

Lee also caught the first touchdown in Florida Memorial’s second game last year against Ave Maria University.

But Florida Memorial could only play three games before its season and all sports at the school were shut down for health and safety reasons.

Their spring practices were halted after only three sessions at the onset of the pandemic. All summer conditioning sessions were canceled with the team only able to hold virtual meetings. This left the Lions with only two weeks of practice to prepare for the season.

Florida Memorial struggled in those initial three games, losing all three by a combined score of 160-13.

Still, Florida Memorial made history and was the only HBCU school that was able to play any games last fall.

“It was just too fast for us being a young team being 98 percent freshmen,” said Harris, whose roster on Friday consisted of 52 freshman and seven sophomores. “Stopping the season in a way helped us get better for this moment because now we had the reps and the depth we needed.”

The Lions are planning an 11-game season that begins Aug. 28 with a road game against Edward Waters in Jacksonville. Florida Memorial will then open its home schedule on Sept. 11 when it hosts the University of Cumberlands (Kentucky) at Traz.

But on Friday, they got a taste of what that atmosphere could be like. The Lions brought out their band nicknamed “The Roar” and their cheerleaders to entertain the roughly 450 socially distanced spectators in attendance.

Sophomore Antoine Williams got most of the reps under center on Friday as he competes with freshmen Jordan Elliot and Demarus McEachern for the starting quarterback job in the fall. Williams misfired a couple of times early, but late in the first period made a nice play when he evaded pressure and found Miami Central alum Tyrik Collins open over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Rigaud Luly, a Hollywood Hills High alum, ran for a touchdown in the second half. Luly leads a deep core of running backs, with George Young, Akin Liverpool and Keyon Pierre also getting reps in the backfield. Collins, a 6-2, 170-pound receiver, Corey Stanley and Lee highlight the receivers.

Victor Barbosa, a Mater Academy graduate, will handle the kicking duties this season and connected on a 41-yard field goal.

On defense, linebackers Ladarius Edwards, Joshua Mimms and Wilson Noel and Jerry Jean, who also had a pass breakup should play key roles. Defensive end Philman Roundtree had a strip sack and fumble recovery. Roundtree, Anthony Harris and Deandre Lawson lead the Lions’ defensive front while Terry Smith is among the standouts in the secondary and showed it with a late interception.

“It’s been great to lay the foundation here and make a football team,” Roundtree said.

The Lions should be able to bolster their depth thanks to a signing class of 30, which included two of their highest-rated signees in three-star wide receiver The’Andris Freeman (St. Thomas Aquinas) and two-star quarterback Torey Morrison (Booker T. Washington). Florida Memorial also added wide receiver Eugene Witherspoon, a transfer from Southeastern University and Miami Jackson alum.