MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – There aren’t many opportunities for exposure to American football in the Bahamas. You can find flag football leagues around the country and the debut of the Bahamas Bowl in 2014 brought a handful of additional efforts to get kids playing tackle football. If you’re like Denzel Daxon, maybe you grew up watching some of the college games you got on television, usually featuring the Florida schools.
There’s an inherent ceiling to playing football in the Bahamas. Players with lofty gridiron ambitions have no choice but to come to the U.S. to get noticed.
“The day I met him,” said Michael Tunsil, who is Daxon’s guardian in South Florida, “he had on University of Miami slippers.”
Something about the sport – and particularly Hurricanes – captured his attention. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound teenager knew he had the build it took to be good at the sport, even if there weren’t many chances for him to try it out back home.
In July, Daxon made a move. The soon-to-be high school junior picked up and moved by himself to Florida, hoping he could capture Miami’s attention.
It took less than three months. The Hurricanes offered Daxon a scholarship on Oct. 14. Seven days later, the defensive tackle became the seventh member of Miami’s Class of 2019. He verbally committed to the program Saturday.
“I always wanted to go to Miami, so getting an offer was a blessing,” Daxon told DieHards on Tuesday. “So I committed. There was no question about it.”
— Denzel Daxon (@Dreamchaser_zel) October 22, 2017
But for Miami to be able to take a chance on Daxon, first someone in the U.S. had to do the same. Tunsil is now an assistant coach for Miami Norland Senior High School in Miami Gardens after stepping down in 2015 as the coach at Champagnat Catholic School in Hialeah, Fla. One of the standouts during Tunsil’s tenure at Champagnat Catholic was Christian Strachan, another Bahamian who plays offensive line for D-II Eastern New Mexico University.
Strachan didn’t have much he could show Tunsil. Daxon had never played in a game or done organized drills. A handful of pictures and Strachan’s word were all Tunsil had to go off.
“Christian is one of my better players that I coached,” Tunsil said. “I took his word for it.”
It has worked out so far. Despite being unrated in the 247Sports composite rankings, Daxon pulled in offers from Kentucky, Georgia Tech and the Hurricanes once his midseason film started circulating earlier this month. Miami Norland Senior is one of the best teams in the state and, despite his inexperience, Daxon is one of the team’s most productive defensive players.
Tunsil could see it from Day 1. The defensive lineman’s first bit of football activity came only a few weeks after he arrived stateside. The Hurricanes held their Paradise Camp on July 23 in Coral Gables, Fla., and Daxon had to be there.
It was his first chance to make an impression on Miami and the entire area football scene, and Daxon didn’t disappoint. As Tunsil recalls, Daxon was the only player to best 4-star Miami offensive guard commit Delone Scaife during drills, and he did so twice.
“I feel like I did fairly good,” Daxon said.
The Hurricanes went silent, though, until they offered Daxon at Hard Rock Stadium. That was already a dream come true. Committing to his dream school this soon after he started playing was almost surreal, even if it wasn’t unexpected.
Daxon knows he’s been playing well this year and feels he’s improving each day. At first he could use his instincts to be a bull-rusher, charging into the backfield to blow up plays before they began.
His raw ability earned him the nickname “Big Suh” before his first regular season game began. He was so impressive during a preseason scrimmage one of the coaches at Miami Norland said Daxon reminded him of Ndamukong Suh. Daxon even wears No. 93, like Suh does for the Dolphins.
“He had all of the necessary attributes that a big D-tackle needs,” Tunsil said. “He has a quick first step. Real big and strong. He just really didn’t know what he was doing.”
Now, Daxon’s starting to learn. He doesn’t just rush through the offensive line anymore like his instincts tell him. The junior has learned the value of skills like occupying double teams or staying in proper position to clog up running lanes.
It’s all a work in progress for Daxon, but it’s coming along quickly. He’s just thankful his beloved Hurricanes took notice.
“It’s a blessing. All of this is a blessing,” Daxon said. “It’s a dream come true.”