Michael, Goodwin kick-started Pace flag football
In the world of athletics, during an unprecedented pandemic, no one has suffered a bigger blow than high school seniors involved in a spring sport, with the final season of their prep career being brought to an unexpected and sudden conclusion.
One step deeper, it might be even tougher for seniors who play flag football in Florida, as the sport is beginning to flourish in the Pensacola area and present opportunities that weren't previously available.
Pace captains Mia Goodwin and Makayla Michael were set to lead the Patriots through their first season competing for FHSAA honors as a flag football program.
Pace was off to a 3-0 start before the season was called off. Goodwin and Michael playing both sides off the football was a critical factor in that hot start.
More flag football: Pace, Gulf Breeze eager to build on success
At linebacker, Goodwin was the heart and soul of the defense, which forced two shutouts and allowed just 19 total points. She intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in a critical play to extend the lead in a 13-0, season-opening win over Tate.
Michael stood out as a dominant receiver and, despite missing Pace’s first game, grabbed 16 catches, 261 yards and seven touchdowns. She signed to play basketball at UWF.
“They are both go-getters,” Pace head coach Chris Raggard said. “If they see something they want, they go after it 110%. As athletically skilled as they are, they are equally skilled academically. They are both pretty vocal, and during practice, they are no-nonsense leaders.
“The sky was the limit for them this season. We had 12 more games, plus hopefully the postseason. Makayla could have had 50-60 catches, 1,000-plus yards and 30-40 touchdowns. Mia was the heart of our defense and I’m sure she would have made plenty of individual accomplishments as well.”
The two have been best friends since middle school and specialize in different sports. While Michael was a standout for Pace basketball in a historic year, Goodwin was a four-year varsity soccer player.
When flag football launched at Pace as a club team in 2019, it gave Goodwin and Michael a chance for their friendship to continue to blossom at a different level.
“Makayla is a natural born leader and a personable teammate,” Goodwin said. “She really helps bring our team closer. On offense, she could do everything. We are both really into sports and have always been close. We’ve gained even more chemistry from playing a sport together and being a part of the same team. You win and enjoy the good times together. You lose together and get through the tough times together.”
In addition to her versatility, leadership and athleticism, Goodwin also showed tremendous toughness and dedication during her brief senior season.
As a javelin thrower for Pace track and field — which coincides with flag football season — she sprained her UCL during a throw. She wasn’t cleared to play as a linebacker or receiver for Pace's third game of the season, but she wanted to do whatever she could to get on the field.
She was cleared to play punter in Pace’s thrilling 25-19 win over area power Crestview. She was able to punt down the field but was not permitted to pursue ball-carriers and pull flags.
And though she didn’t know it at the time, it would be her final competition as a high school athlete.
“I’m just glad I was able to contribute one last time,” Goodwin said. “Flag football means everything honestly. Our bond as players is strong and our bond with coaches is strong. We don’t worry about anything else except motivating each other. I think we had a chance to far into the district tournament and regionals this year.
While Pace flag football made major strides in the first year for the program, it appeared the Patriots were destined to build on it in 2020.
Though Goodwin and Michael are among the seven seniors who have played their final games for the Patriots, they believe the program is going to continue to flourish.
“Not only do we have the talent coming back, but we have three great coaches that will do whatever it takes to make us the best we can be,” Goodwin said. “I think that will be a big part of the team’s success next year. We have a lot of depth and some freshman that will really help us next year. I know they will all step up in the offseason and work to get better.”
The future for the sport itself is also in a great spot, as NFL Flag announced May 4 that women's collegiate flag football will be a sport by 2021.
So far, NAIA programs Weber International, Keiser University, St. Thomas University, Florida Memorial, Ottawa University and Kansas Wesleyan have all set up programs for next year. Several have began recruiting athletes from Pace.
Raggard said Goodwin and Michael received attention from recruiters, but both are eager for their already decided plans for college.
Michael will aim to make an impact for UWF basketball, while Goodwin is headed to the University of Alabama on an ROTC scholarship.
She plans to study chemical engineering, minor in neuroscience and follow her path in the military, which will guide her to the status of second lieutenant by graduation.
Of course, she is also excited about the Alabama’s club flag football team and club soccer team.
Brian Achatz can be reached at email@example.com.