In my opinion

Champagnat Catholic shines among South Florida talent at Backyard Bash


As many of the traditional powers opted to stay at home and get ready for the start of summer practice this week, there were a number of southern Miami-Dade County teams that were searching for additional exposure.

With what has now become a ritual, ending nearly nine months of an offseason, culminated last Saturday with the third annual Backyard Bash 7-on-7 challenge at Archbishop Carroll High School.

As coach Rav Maisonet and his staff opened the doors to programs such as Hialeah’s Champagnat Catholic, South Dade, Palmetto, Coral Reef, Killian, Keys Gate Charter, Barrington Christian, South Miami and Coral Gables, it was an opportunity for many prospects to jump onto the radar screen.

When the day was over and Champagnat Catholic had wrestled the title from defending champion South Dade and Gulliver Prep — in the finals — it was an event that told why this region of the country continues to produce the kind of talent it does.

“You get a tournament with so many smaller schools, and you figure it would be an OK event,” Champagnat coach Mike Tunsil pointed out. “But this one here — with so many quality athletes doing their thing, and it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Most who watched the day-long event believe that there were as many as 25 Division 1-level football players on the field.

This was a tournament that not only boosted rising Champagnat seniors, such as Louisville commit Michael Johnson (safety), Jason Williams (Western Kentucky commit) and athletic Franklin Labady (Cincinnati commit), but also quality Gulliver Prep athletes, such as Cornelius Floyd, safety Antonyo Sotolongo and running back Mitch Davis.

When you have outstanding athletes like recent Duke University commitment quarterback Nico Pierre of Coral Reef, there was no shortage of talent on hand. Receivers Tristen Ferguson and Jeffrey Grant are also special.

South Dade was also out in force.

Former Southridge running back Lashone Garnett was on the sideline of his new school — and injured game-changer Antwan Cordy was on the sideline recovering.

The Bucs also feature prospects such as quarterback Khalil Render, and receivers Trye Brady, C.J. Worton and Devontay Keaton. There is also Homestead running back transfer Johnnie Hankins, a top 2015 prospect.

Keys Charter found itself in the Final Four, as players such as Tevin Flowers, Zachary Ward, Hunter Harmon and junior standout Raymond Gage all made a difference.

“While there were some great seniors at the event, it’s the underclassmen who really showed why this region is not going away anytime soon,” Tunsil said. “We had some young men in the 2015 and 2016 classes who just totally took over.”

The Champagnat duo of quarterback Kato Nelson and Darnell Salomon are two of the Class of 2016 prospects who will be nationally rated. So will junior Gerald Robinson, who just may be as good as any defensive back in Florida right now.

While many players were jumping onto the radar screen, very few made the splash that Class of 2016 receiver/defensive back Dionte Mullins did.

“Dionte Mullins is one of the best I’ve watched in a long, long time,” Tunsil said. “With as many big-time players on that field today, he may have been a cut above, and that is saying something in this region of the country.”

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