The national pollsters have given Miami-Dade County plenty of respect with two entities ranking Miami Booker T. Washington and Miami Central as their respective No. 1 teams in the country.
On Saturday night, Booker T. Washington hopes to back up the hype.
The Tornadoes, ranked No. 1 by USA Today for the first time in the school’s history, will square off with Georgia’s Norcross High at 7 p.m. in a game that will be televised nationally as part of the fourth annual ESPN High School Football Kickoff weekend.
“I think the sportswriters [around the country] really look at South Florida in a different way now,” Booker T. coach Tim “Ice” Harris said. “In the past, they recognized we had great talent, but thought we had a lack of discipline and not good coaching. They realize that we do have disciplined student-athletes and that coaches are doing a great job developing them as you can see by the way they are ready to play right away at the next level.”
The Tornadoes who won the Class 4A state championship last season know their lofty status will be put to the test immediately in a state that has not been kind to Dade’s best in recent years.
Norcross, located about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta in Gwinnett County (Georgia’s largest school district), is ranked as high as No. 3 in the national polls (MaxPreps) and in the top 6 in all four major rankings.
For the Tornadoes, who lost a season-opener in 2008 when they were also coming off a state championship season, the game is the first in a series of early-season showdowns that will determine whether they can contend for the school’s first national championship.
After Norcross, the Tornadoes come home to face Central Sept. 6 and will travel to Las Vegas Oct. 4 to play Bishop Gorman. Booker T. is vying to become the first Dade team since Northwestern in 2007 to win a national championship.
The Tornadoes aren’t the only team that has found Georgia powerhouses difficult to handle in season-openers the past five years.
Miami Central won last year’s Class 6A state championship, but started the season with a 31-3 loss at Grayson High, which plays in the same county as Norcross.
The Rockets also lost their opening game against Camden County in 2010.
Booker T. lost 31-7 to Northside Warner Robins (Ga.) in its opener in 2008.
The Tornadoes had lost more key elements of their state championship team that season than this year’s group including Harris, who accepted a job at the University of Miami.
Booker T. returns one of the most complete teams in the country, is an overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions in Class 4A a year after winning the school’s second state title in six years.
Norcross, which went 15-0 last season and won Georgia’s Class 6A state championship (the school’s first), is a solid national title contender itself.
The Blue Devils feature one of the top defenses in the country led by senior defensive end Lorenzo Carter — one of the top 15 overall prospects in the country. Carter, who has over 50 FBS-school offers, is a 6-5, 235-pound versatile pass rusher that is ranked No. 11 overall by ESPN and No. 2 among defensive ends by Rivals.com.
Backing him up is linebacker Kevin Mouhon (6-2, 220), another highly-touted senior that is already committed to Tennessee.
Booker T.’s offense that returns several key players including senior quarterback Treon Harris.
Booker T. averaged 50 points per game last season led by Harris, who led the county in passing with 2,587 yards and 32 touchdowns while throwing only seven interceptions and completing 138 of 226 passes. Harris also ran for 751 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Tornadoes’ offensive line is the one group that’s a little less experienced, but Harris feels confident since several of them gained experience playing in games last season.
“We train all the kids on our roster every day to be first team guys,” Harris said. “We feel good about our second and third-tier kids because we try to get them reps with some of the first team guys in practice so they are ready to play like they’re number one.”