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American Heritage (Florida) football abides by one standard: A Gold Standard

The youthful Patriots are coming of age and are among the Class 2M state favorites
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PLANTATION, FLORIDA – At American Heritage, they don’t just talk about their standard.

It’s preached regularly by coach Mike Smith, and it’s enforced by a veteran coaching staff.

Heritage also is a school that has a rich football history, with numerous players performing at major colleges, as well as the NFL. The images of alums who reached the NFL, the likes of Isaiah McKenzie, Sony Michel and Patrick Surtain II, are displayed on the fence at the football field.

“I’ll tell you who drives it home is the people that built that standard,” Smith told SBLive Sports on Wednesday. “Guys like Isaiah McKenzie and Sony Michel. Those guys come back. Sony has been on the sidelines a bunch of times this year.”

Adopting a high standard is certainly not exclusive to American Heritage. But the Patriots are actually one of the elite programs that yearly lives up to their high standard.

“Yeah, these are just words, but here it’s a little bit different, because we’re expecting you to make a play,” Smith said. “We’re expecting you to win the game. We’re expecting you to figure it out.”

Even with the core of their roster being underclassmen, the Patriots (6-1) have been one of dominant teams in South Florida. They’re nationally ranked, and are among the favorites to win the Class 2M state championship.

A year ago, Heritage was led mostly by seniors, including running back Mark Fletcher (now at Miami) and receiver Brandon Inniss (now at Ohio State).

The 2022 team fell to Miami Central in 2M state championship game.

Before this season, it appeared this could be a transition year for the Patriots, considering they had a sophomore quarterback, first-year starter, Dia Bell, a sophomore primary receiver in Malachi Toney and a junior running back in Byron Louis.

Now, a case can be made that Heritage is the top 2M team in the state. Its only loss was 28-16 to Chaminade-Madonna, one of the top teams in the nation. Heritage actually outplayed Chaminade in the second half.

“It could be a burden for these kids at times because you’ve got to live up to all those guys who are on that fence back there,” Smith said. “But that’s what you come here for. That’s what you put the black and gold [school colors] on for.”

Heritage wraps up its regular season on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET with a road game at Hallandale. After that, it’s off a week before the playoffs start.

SBLive Sports Florida introduces you to three of Heritage’s top players who are leading the team to what may end up being a state championship.

Quarterback Dia Bell: The son of former NBA player, Raja Bell, Dia Bell is an emerging star at quarterback, averaging almost 162 yards passing per game.

“Since this group is so young, we’ve definitely grown as a group,” Bell said. “We’ve kind of gelled much better as the season has progressed. That’s an experience thing for me, as a first-year starter. We’ve done a really good job of maturing and stuff like that, but I’d still like to see growth in terms of communication, and in some other spots.”

Bell has no shortage of standout weapons to work with. The Patriots have a balanced attack that averages 38 points per game, as well as 189 yards rushing per contest.

American Heritage (Florida) sophomore quarterback Dia Bell. 10/26/2023

Quarterback Dia Bell is one of a trio of young sophomore stars coming of age for American Heritage which is gearing up for another state championship run.

“I’ve just got to make sure I get my playmakers the ball,” Bell said. “We call them ‘superheroes.’“

The coaches urge Bell to put the ball in the hands of the “superheroes” and they’ll do the rest.

“We do a good job of getting the running backs touches and all of our wide receivers touches and let them do the work, and do what they can with the ball,” Bell said.

Running back Byron Louis: A year ago, there was little doubt who the Patriots leaned on for tough yardage. Fletcher was one of the best running backs in the nation.

Now, the Patriots have three running backs each capable of being a primary back – Louis, Deandre Desinor and Chance Washington.

Louis, who averages 101 yards per game, is like Fletcher in terms of getting stronger as the game progresses. Desinor is a speedster who also is dangerous on special teams returning kickoffs, and Washington is a power back.

American Heritage (Florida) sophomore defensive back Byron Louis. 10/26/2023

Byron Louis is averaging better than 100 yards per game as part as three-headed backfield that has powered the American Heritage running game.

“I believe we can be a nationally contending team,” Louis said. “I just feel like the sky is the limit, especially with the young talent that we have. We can be special. I don’t see a lot of teams being able to play four quarters with us.”

It starts with the work and preparation dating back to last spring, and summer workouts.

“All the time we put into this stuff, I just feel that we could be a very good, solid, young team,” Louis said. “I feel bad for the schools that have to play us in the future.”

WR Malachi Toney: As a freshman a year ago, Toney put himself on the radar of many major colleges. Recently, the sophomore committed to Miami.

Toney is as gifted a young receiver in the state, averaging almost 50 yards a game in receptions. Remember, Heritage doesn’t have just one primary receiver. The Patriots also have standout sophomore speedsters in Brandon Bennett, Zamarii Sanders and Jamar Denson.

American Heritage (Florida) sophomore wide receiver Malachi Toney. 10/26/2023

Freshman wide receiver Malachi Toney has burst onto the radar of college recruiters in a big way with his strong play on the outside for the Patriots.

“This team can be very special,” Toney said. “We just haven’t found ourselves yet. Once we find ourselves, I feel bad for everyone that we play.”

Toney finds himself as a number one receiver in a unit filled with pass catchers who possess breakaway speed.

“I’m not the best version of myself yet,” Toney said. “I’m still growing. Still learning how to read defenses., and still learning how to beat double-teams. Stuff like that. I still have to learn. I’m still young.”