University School is tired of being second best.
For two years, the Suns have watched their seasons end against the eventual state champion in its classification — Ocala Trinity Catholic (2010) and American Heritage-Delray (2011).
University enters this season with another abundantly talented squad that ranks among the best in Broward.
Although Heritage-Delray figures to stand in its way again, University took steps this offseason to make sure it is prepared for the potential rematch.
1. University School: The Suns didn’t even get a chance at redemption last season.
A year after a failed two-point conversion denied them the title against Trinity Catholic, University was bounced unceremoniously from the playoffs in the second round.
Suns coach Roger Harriott said his team had not been tested nearly enough prior to the matchup against Heritage.
That won’t be the case this season if the two square off again.
The schedule that started Sunday with a nationally televised game in Ohio will continue with trips to Cocoa, Treasure Coast and Fort Myers Dunbar, as well as a showdown Friday with Island Coast in Orlando.
The rest of the schedule is just as tough, with district matchups against Chaminade, Miami Westminster Christian, Miami Archbishop Carroll, Jacksonville Eagle’s View and an improved Miami Edison.
As it has in years past, University will have one of the most explosive offenses in the county, led by new starting quarterback Mike White. An All-American pitcher as well, White has a strong arm and plenty of weapons to throw to not to mention a talented sophomore running back in Jordan Scarlett.
If the defense, led by stars Maquedius Bain and Skai Moore, can shut down the tougher opponents, the third time might be the charm for the Suns.
2. American Heritage: Even without star running back Sony Michel, the Patriots put together a 9-1 season before losing in the first round of the playoffs last year.
Michel’s return with several other key starters has many believing Heritage could be a legitimate state title contender in Class 5A this season.
Michel and fellow back Walter Tucker figure to make the running game potent again, but the Patriots will spread things out with quarterback Tyler Cogswell — one of the best in the county. Linebacker Michael Deeb leads an improved defense that will need to be against some of the adversaries it could face in the playoffs.
Heritage is one of the best teams in its class, but must prove it belongs by surviving a road that could include Miami Jackson, Miami Norland, Glades Central and Immokalee or Bradenton Palmetto.
3. Chaminade-Madonna: The Lions ran the ball well last season behind the tandem of Cameron Rigby and Myles Graham. Rigby transferred to Miramar, leaving Graham as the primary back.
The good news is quarterback Sean White looks primed for a breakout season that will help balance the offense and make it more dangerous than last year. The defense, led by Adrian Baker and Khairi Clark, should be strong as well.
The bad news for the Lions is that they still must contend with University in its district as well as Heritage-Delray in the region.
4. Cardinal Gibbons: The Chiefs lost a few key seniors, but should still be strong enough to make a playoff push with the junior class coming back. The group is highlighted by Trevon Lee, one of Broward’s best receivers. Although beating American Heritage might prove difficult, Gibbons will likely make it eight consecutive playoff appearances.
5. Hallandale: Coming off a 5-5 season, the Chargers are hoping an experienced defense will guide them back to the playoffs. The veteran linebacking corps of Jeremy Derrick, Robert Alexander and Aaron Plantt should keep them in the hunt with Gibbons and Heritage for one of the district’s playoff spots.
6. Dillard: The Panthers picked a familiar face to begin what they hope is an eventual return to powerhouse status in Broward. Lorenzo Davis spent the past nine years as athletic director of the middle school that feeds into Dillard before becoming the coach this offseason. The rebuilding process is going well so far, but in a tough district, it might still be a little time before Dillard is back among the elite.
7. North Broward Prep: With rival Pine Crest going independent, the Eagles shouldn’t have much trouble winning their fourth district title in the past five seasons. The offense should still be strong, led by running back Semar Smith, but the defense will need to replace a few key starters if it wants to have any big-picture success.
8. Pompano Beach: New coach Larry Cherry, a former assistant at Boyd Anderson and Plantation, has generated excitement on a team that went 2-8 in 2011. A more talented team should get a few more wins than last year, but contention in tough District 15-5A will take time.
9. Westminster Academy: The Lions will remain independent this season and joined the Southeastern Coaches Conference. Expect them to be one of the favorites to win the new league with 14 starters back. Star wide receiver Josh Orsino (FAU) is gone, but 6-5 quarterback Ray Sharp is one of the better signal-callers in the county and still has plenty of options.
10. Calvary Christian: After four years of dominant offense led by star Javan Shashaty, the Eagles will need to rely on defense this season to achieve another winning season. Isaac Hoza steps in at quarterback and will need to mature quickly if Calvary is to have any chance to contend in District 7-3A which includes American Heritage-Delray, Cardinal Newman and King’s Academy.
The rest: 11. Somerset; 12. Pine Crest; 13. Highlands Christian; 14. Coral Springs Christian; 15. South Florida HEAT; 16. Zion Lutheran; 17. Posnack.
• Catch Andre C. Fernandez’s weekly football predictions every Tuesday.