St. Thomas Aquinas took a surprising step back in 2011. The Raiders failed to win their district for the first time in 14 years and didn’t qualify for the state semifinals for the first time in eight years.
Hope the rest of Broward County enjoyed the rare off year.
Aquinas will be back on top in 2012.
Rocco Casullo’s second season at the helm ought to be more fruitful now that the quarterback position appears to be solidified under senior John O’Korn. The 6-3, 205-pound University of Houston commitment wasn’t quite ready to handle the job last season. But with an experienced line in front of him led by Austin Bland (6-3, 275), Zack Provin (6-3, 265) and Kyle Shafenacker (6-4, 285) and plenty of weapons around him including tailback Fred Coppet (5-9, 176), the Raiders offense shouldn’t have any off days.
Defensively, Ohio State-bound defensive end Joey Bosa (6-5, 270) is one of the best in the country. He has some backup this year. Senior outside linebacker Lance Virgile (6-2, 215) and a cast of talented juniors led by cornerback Al Harris (5-11, 165) and defensive tackle Anthony Moten (6-3, 265) should keep Aquinas among the most elite defenses in the country.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Aquinas won’t be tested.
The Raiders once again face a tough schedule highlighted by games with 8A state semifinalist Miami Columbus (Aug. 31 at Sun Life Stadium), national power Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) on ESPN on Sept. 14 and trips to 8A state runner-up Miramar (Oct. 5) and Cypress Bay (Sept. 7). All will be among the first five regular-season games for the Raiders.
The final test to get back to Orlando and the Class 7A state title game: a likely semifinal date with nationally ranked Bradenton Manatee. The Raiders would get to serve as host.
2. Miramar: The Patriots have gone 36-5 during the past three seasons. The only South Florida team better? The guys listed above them, who went 38-4.
The key to sustaining dominance is reloading, and that’s what the Patriots have done, reeling in a few big transfers while growing a talented crop of young players on the JV. The key — as it was after the Patriots’ 2009 championship season — will be meshing it all.
Star linebacker Jermaine Grace, the lone returning starter from last season’s Dark Side defense, will have help. Junior middle linebacker Ryan Samuels (5-11, 210) is a young leader in the making and extremely bright (5.5 GPA). Offensively, All-Broward first-team lineman Michael Miranda, receiver Sean Avant and running back Alex Lee will provide the veteran presence.
In the end, Miramar’s hopes of a return trip to Orlando will probably hinge on quarterback play. If a true leader emerges, the Patriots should make it three trips to the Citrus Bowl in four years.
3. Cypess Bay: Injuries to quarterback Jaranta Lewis and tailback Matt Dayes ultimately sucked the flash out of the Lightning’s offense in 2011. This season, coach Mark Guandolo hopes a change from the Wing-T to a mix of the spread and I-formation puts a bolt back into it.
Tulane-bound linebacker Nico Marley (5-9, 190) and cornerback Boaz Joseph (6-0, 195) are among six starters back on a defense which allowed just 14.2 point a game last season. If they find some help and get stingier in 2012, it could be Cypress Bay and not Miramar that gets to Orlando in Class 8A.