~By Cody Butler
The Miami Gardens Ravens program is arguably the most decorated youth football park in South Florida. Formerly known as the Miami Gardens Chargers, the Ravens carried on the winning tradition since the change in 2010. The Ravens currently field teams ranging from 7U to 14U competing in the ultra-talented Florida Youth Football League. Playing in the most talented hotbed for youth football, some of the best players in the country grow up wearing a Miami Gardens Ravens uniform. Every Ravens team in the program made the FYFL playoffs last season, highlighted by the 2017 11U national championship squad known as the “Purple Machine”.
“Our number one goal is to keep kids off the street and give them a positive environment to learn the game of football.” said President and 12U head coach Rod Mack. “We’re in this community to teach life skills and create accountable and responsible young men. This is more than football to us. This is more than wins and losses”, he added.
The Ravens organization currently has 7 active NFL players: Dalvin Cook (Vikings), Geno Smith (Chargers), Tracy Howard (Dolphins), Jermain Grace (Bengals), Artie Burns (Steelers), Carlton Davis (Buccaneers), and Alvin Hill (Browns). Top college players such as Jeremiah Dinson (Auburn), Damari Simpkins (Utah), Khalil Lewis (Cincinnati), Chandler Jones (Louisville), and Dredrick Snelson (UCF) all came up through the program. There will be over 20+ former Ravens on division one rosters this fall.
Last year, the “Purple Machine” 11U Ravens finished the season ranked No.1 nationally after winning the 2017 FYFL Super Bowl, the 2017 Florida State Championship, and the 2017 Youth National Championship. “Offensively we averaged 40 points per game”, said Mack. “We gave up six points total on defense in the FYFL last season. It’s a special group of kids”, he added. “They’re a very balanced team. We can run and throw the ball very well. We have a ton of athletes all over the field”, Mack explained. The 11U Ravens won every game by mercy rule last season including the FYFL Super Bowl and Youth National Championship.
The offensive duo of quarterback Cedric Bailey and running back Davion Gause proved unstoppable in 2017 for the Purple Machine. Gause finished with over 100 yards rushing and a touchdown in the national championship victory over the Atlanta Bulldogs last December. The 11U Ravens offense created too many problems for defenses to key on with standout wide receivers such as Josia Trader and Jeremiah Smith stretching them down field. Defensive playmakers such as DB Ryan Mack, DL Jayden Harris, and LB Anthony Mattison led a Ravens defense that didn’t bend let alone break all season.
The Purple Machine will look to run the table at the 12U level against even tougher competition this fall. “We want to repeat as national champions. We need to build off the success we had last season at 11U and carry it over to this year”, said Mack.
The 12U Ravens open their season in Los Angeles, California against the highly ranked 12U Wilmington Pilots on August 4th. Wilmington finished the season ranked No.2 nationally last year after winning the AYF National Championship. The Florida-California showdown is the most anticipated 12U football game of the 2018 season. “Some people had the Ravens as the No.1 team in the country last year. Some people had the Pilots No.1. There’s only way to find out”, explained Mack.