Larry Blustein

Dade County: The 50’s & 60’s Set The Table For Today

Larry Blustein
March 14, 2019 - 11:57 am

To hear people of today’s high school football brag about the athletes of their generation is like listening to anyone who has grown up and followed the sports and its players in Miami.

For decades, the table was being set for the future. What transpired in Miami in the late 1920’s, 30’s and into the 40’s was only opening the door for the 50’s and 60’s.

With the population growing and new schools opening, this was now an area like no other.

Transplanted residents – along with Cubans learning to play the game – put the sport in a light like never before.

While Miami High still held its lofty spot throughout the 1950’s and into the early 60’s, there were new players on the scene.

JACKIE SIMPSON WAS THE 1950’s

If you talk with those who watched him play for the Edison Red Raiders from the 1949-52, they will tell you that he was the best football player ever in Miami-Dade County.

While we have had some tremendous athletes, those who grew up watching Jackie Simpson play, will tell you that this Florida Gator and NFL standout was the elite of elite, and without hesitation, should be in every “best ever” conversation.

In a decade that many believe started the elite prospect train, Simpson was the star of stars.

Many watched him and appreciated what he brought to the football field. University of Miami head coach Charlie Tate called him: “A great one. “Someone who could do it all – against anyone.”

At 5-10, 170, Simpson out-ran and out-passed everyone for 27 touchdowns his senior year.

His coach Ed Parnell called Simpson: “someone who plays with fire and determination, and refuses to lose.”

While he was best known for what he did on the offensive side of the ball, Simpson had no equal in the defensive secondary, coming up with interceptions and key tackles.

In 1952, the highlight of Simpson’s career turned out to be a rallying point for the Red Raiders. His three touchdowns on the ground and through the air gave his team a first ever win, 21-7, against powerhouse Miami High. That was after 30 losses!

After Florida, Simpson played with the Baltimore Colts, Steelers and in the Canadian League.

Simpson was the show in the 1950’s, but certainly not the only players in Miami. There was fullback Joe Brodsky (1952) from Miami Jackson. Coral Gables had standout such as Billy Williamson (1957), and Miami High’s Joe Caldwell (1955), Lindy Infante (1957) and Claude Moorman (1956) were among the best.

The 1950’s also had the great Lee Corso, Don Orr, John Melear and Jimmy Rountree (Jackson); legendary Fran Curci (Archbishop Curley); Ted Sauselle, Mike Harrison and Joe Auer (Coral Gables), who recently passed. In addition, there were Ernest Hart (Carver); Orville Vereen, Gene Mariutto, Buddy Coleman and Larry Fonts (Miami High); and Darrell Cox, Nathan Kelly and Larry Libertore (Edison).

1960’S: SETTING THE TABLE FOR THE FUTURE

What happened from1970 through 2018 would certainly be a reflection of what transpired in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and certainly what happened in the productive 1960’s.

In a decade where we found that there was “no defense for Larry Rentz (PICTURED - Coral Gables, 1964)” – “no way to stop Ted Hendricks (Hialeah, 1964) and simply “no way to slow down Miami Norland (1966) prospects Dieter Mathis (receiver) and Jackie Holmes (quarterback)”, - we were seeing our second wave of NFL talent.

In what is today, the most fertile ground for professional football players, the 1960’s offered much of that with Hall of Famer Hendricks, New York Jets defensive back Steve Tannen (Southwest, 1965) and more.

Rentz, who would also play for the San Diego Chargers, never lost a game when he started at quarterback for Coral Gables. Included in that total is a 21-game winning streak and two state titles. He weighed just 140 as a senior in high school!

After losing its third game of the 1963 season to Key West, Rentz, a junior defensive back and receiver, became part of legendary head coach Nick Kotys’ shuttle system at quarterback – with Larry Davidson.

Included in Rentz’ accomplishments at quarterback included scoring the winning touchdown against Miami High – when he scored with :13 seconds left.

Rentz showed heroics in the state title game against Tampa Robinson, scoring twice in the second half as a junior.

The following season, he came back, beating rival Miami High, 13-6 and capping off a 12-0 season with a state title against Jacksonville Lee. He had 16 touchdowns and average 43 yards a punt, showcasing what the Gators were getting.

As Miami High held on tightly to something they had owned for three decades, Coral Gables was flexing muscle. Not only with future Rentz, but with Tommy Warren, Craig Curry, Roger Peace, Paul Johnstone, Gerald Tinker, Neal Colzie, Rich Whittington and Bruce Fischer – not to mention a ton of other standouts for the Cavaliers.

Miami High didn’t totally disappear. The Stingarees featured Steve Diamond, Gene Wood, David Younts, Andy Younts and Jim Angel. There was also Joe Taylor (Carver) and Jay McCoy of Southwest Miami.  

The end of the 60’s also brought that feeling that athletes such as Nat Moore (Edison), Rufus Ferguson and Jim Stoeckel (Killian); Barry Smith (Coral Park); Alex Brawner, Silvio Cardoso and Bucky Dent (Hialeah); Skip Lowe and Mark Hewitt (Norland) and North Miami’s Jon Florio and Jose Rios, the future would be bright.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In addition to the many prospects that were mentioned in this series, we are currently working on a book – with stories and player quotes.

Having covered high school football since 1970, and watching it since 1960, there are a number of elite stars that we have had the chance to cover in what has been a career that has been amazing.

Catch the South Florida High School Sports Radio Show each Monday night (8-9) on WQAM (560AM - https://wqam.radio.com/media/podcast/south-florida-high-school-sports-radio). For the past 11 years, the players and coaches who are making the headlines, join the program. You will learn a lot about football recruiting!