The debate has already begun as to who the best high school football teams in South Florida will be in 2013.
The Miami Herald has begun unveiling its first official South Florida Top 20 poll of the season.
We move into the top 10 with Nos. 10 through 6:
10. Norland (9-3)
Outlook: Nearly two years removed from its undefeated state championship season, the Vikings move to Class 6A and the state’s toughest district. Norland will barely have a break in a schedule that includes three defending state champions (Central, Booker T. and University) as well as Georgia power Stephenson, Northwestern, Jackson, Homestead and Carol City.
Norland’s offense, which returns eight starters, lost a key cog when running back Lakeith Stafford transferred to Northwestern. But the Vikings still have one of the county’s most promising receivers in Kendrick Edwards and senior quarterback Taron James, who gained experience late in the season during Norland’s run to the second round of the playoffs in Class 5A last season.
If the Vikings are to challenge for a playoff berth, they can’t afford any injuries and need their defense to continue to be as stingy as it has in recent years.
Senior linebacker Dreshawn Dean and defensive back Xavier Francis will anchor that unit. Senior linebacker Official Coffy, a transfer from North Miami, should bolster the lineup as well.
Key games: Sept. 7, University; Sept. 11, Jackson; Oct. 4, Northwestern; Oct. 11, Central; Oct. 24, Booker T.; Nov. 8, Carol City.
9. Deerfield Beach (5-5)
Outlook: This could be Broward County’s most improved team this season.
Led by senior running back Brandon Powell, a University of Miami commitment, the Bucks have 14 starters back on a squad that could make a run to Orlando in Class 8A. Senior quarterback Danarious Graham, one of the best players in Broward at the position, transferred from Blanche Ely and leads an explosive group that should be better than the one that led Deerfield Beach to the first round of the playoffs in 2012.
The Bucks will play Ely and St. Thomas Aquinas outside of its eight-team District 11-8A slate, and enters the season as the favorite to win the division.
Key games: Sept. 7, at Blanche Ely; Oct. 4, Taravella; Nov. 8, St. Thomas Aquinas.
8. American Heritage (9-2)
Outlook: Back-to-back promising seasons have been marred by first-round playoff exits courtesy of Miami Jackson.
Enter former University of Miami standout defensive back Mike Rumph as the team’s new coach replacing former Miami Dolphin Jeff Dellenbach. Rumph’s squad moved into a new district that includes Jackson as well as Cardinal Gibbons and Key West.
The key to any success starts with running back Sony Michel, now a University of Georgia commitment entering his fifth season of varsity football. Michel and senior Isaiah McKenzie are two of the most explosive players in the state and should make Torrance Gibson’s transition into the starting quarterback role smooth for an offense that averaged 45.7 points per game last year.
With more openings on its non-district schedule, American Heritage added Miami Central, American Heritage-Delray, Columbus and a home date with Jacksonville Bolles.
The Patriots hope the schedule will prepare them for what they hope will be a deeper postseason run.
Key games: Aug. 30, Central; Sept. 6, AHS-Delray; Sept. 12, Columbus; Oct. 4, Jackson; Oct. 11, Bolles; Nov. 1, Cardinal Gibbons.
7. Miramar (7-5)
Outlook: A state champion in 2009 and a state runner-up in 2011, is Miramar due for another big season in 2013?
The Patriots could make the answer a resounding “Yes” if its returning talent led primarily by its “Dark Side” defense and running game comes together. Senior Andre Godfrey and juniors Tyrek Cole and Malik Atkins should give the Patriots one of the best secondaries in the state.
The backfield of seniors Eric Pittman and Cameron Rigby is also one of the best overall and senior quarterback Nick Jeanty has had an extra year to get comfortable with the offense, which should pay dividends.
A tough schedule that includes Plantation and St. Thomas Aquinas early should have the Patriots ready to contend with rival Cypress Bay for the District 12-8A title and beyond.
Key games: Sept. 12, Plantation; Sept. 20, St. Thomas; Oct. 25, Cypress Bay.
6. Jackson (9-5)
Outlook: Coach Antonio Brown’s first season leading the Generals ended with four weeks of memorable playoff football that ended in the Class 5A state semifinals. A strong achievement considering Jackson finished the regular season on a three-game losing streak and entered the playoffs as an underdog at Plantation American Heritage.
This season, the Generals hope to finish the job and deliver the school’s first football state championship.
One way or another, senior quarterback Quinton Flowers is poised to finish his stellar career on a high note. Flowers, who threw for 1,712 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 642 yards and nine touchdowns, is one of 18 returning starters on one of the most talented teams in Jackson history.
In addition to offensive weapons such as running back Tim Bellinger and wide receiver Terrence Rutherford, the Generals got stronger with the addition of athlete Jovon Durante and offensive lineman Ben Tirolia. Juniors Ladarius Crump and Antonio Howard and senior Bennie Powell lead a strong defense that should be much improved.
The Generals have American Heritage - the team they’ve eliminated from the playoffs each of the past two seasons – in their district as well as Cardinal Gibbons, and face Booker T. Washington, South Dade, Norland and North Miami Beach – all district champions last season – as non-district opponents.
And then there’s the Soul Bowl against Northwestern.
Key games: Sept. 11, Norland; Sept. 19, Booker T.; Oct. 4, American Heritage; Oct. 19, Cardinal Gibbons; Nov. 8, Northwestern.