HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

St. Thomas Aquinas to play national champion in Superdome

 

A1fernandez@MiamiHerald.com

St. Thomas Aquinas returned to state championship status this past football season.

The Raiders announced Thursday they are making a bold move to get back to national championship contention this fall.

Aquinas, winner of national titles in 2008 and 2010, will take on reigning national champion John Curtis Christian on Sept. 13 at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The matchup, which will occur in Week 3 of Florida’s high school football regular season, is part of the third annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Showcase and will be televised regionally by Fox Sports. It will be part of a doubleheader following a game between New Orleans Jesuit and Covington (La.) St. Paul’s.

St. Thomas Aquinas athletic director George Smith said coverage of the Raiders’ game could expand to a national telecast.

The game is the latest addition to a challenging schedule for Aquinas that already includes an opening week contest against Miami Northwestern, Saturday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at Sun Life Stadium.

“We felt this was a great opportunity and this is a chance for our players to go to one of the most historic cities in the country and see how they have recovered from the hurricane,” Smith said. “Playing in the Superdome is an opportunity that most people will never have again.”

St. Thomas Aquinas won its seventh state championship in Class 7A last season and has gone 7-1 in recent years against out-of-state opponents. Its impressive run during that stretch includes victories against national powerhouses Concord De La Salle (Calif.), Camden County (Ga.), Dallas Skyline and Prattville (Ala.). The lone defeat came last season at home against Don Bosco Prep (N.J.).

John Curtis High of River Ridge, La., will enter the upcoming season on a 28-game winning streak and finished last season ranked No. 1 nationally in seven of the nine national polls. John Curtis has won 25 state titles, including back-to-back titles. Last season, the Patriots beat Tampa Plant in the Sugar Bowl Prep Showcase. Tallahassee Lincoln, the team Aquinas defeated for the state title this past December, also participated in it last year.

“It’s a great opportunity for our kids because I don’t know how many of them have been to New Orleans,” St. Thomas coach Rocco Casullo said. “It’s a good chance for us to see what we’ve got from a personnel standpoint and what better opportunity than playing a team like John Curtis.”

Over the past five years, the Raiders have won out-of-state games at professional and college venues such as Cowboys Stadium (Dallas), Ohio State University and Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati).

Playing in the Superdome, which hosted Super Bowl XLVII in February, and in New Orleans is something Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo believes will be a valuable experience for his players.

“Games like this benefit you down the road in a season,” Casullo said. “If you stay healthy, you can correct any mistakes early and get into a good groove like we did last season. It’s a huge advantage for the maturity of our football team.”

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