The national polls have pegged St. Thomas Aquinas as one of the nation’s best once again as the Raiders chase championship No. 8 in Class 7A.
But in Class 8A, Deerfield Beach is looking to return to state championship contender status.
The Bucks got close in 2005, losing in the state final and in 2007 when then-quarterback Denard Robinson got them to the state semifinals and nearly past eventual national champion Miami Northwestern.
Deerfield Beach will have to contend with Cypress Bay, last year’s 8A state runner-up, and Miramar, which went to state in 2009 and 2011 and looks good enough to make it again this season.
With what should be one of the most explosive offenses in the county, the Bucks feel they have as good a chance as any to make it to the Orlando Citrus Bowl in December.
“We’re excited because we have a lot of players that came home to play for us,” senior running back Brandon Powell said. “We think we can do big things.”
Powell (5-10, 175 pounds) committed to the University of Miami following a junior season in which he ran for 1,166 yards and 13 touchdowns. He and senior Aaron McNeal highlight a great backfield for the Bucks that became more dangerous with the addition of senior quarterback Danarious Graham, a transfer from Blanche Ely.
Powell can also play defense and return kicks on special teams, making him one of the most versatile players in Broward County. On defense is where junior defensive end Jason Strowbridge anchors an improved squad, along with senior end Tyler Ayles and senior linebacker Kendrick Gattis.
“We were missing a quarterback last season,” Powell said. The No. 1 goal for us is to get a state ring. You know in Class 8A you have to play top-notch football every week.”
1. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Raiders have all the pieces they need to repeat in Class 7A and chase a national title if they get through the first three games undefeated.
2. Miramar: The Patriots have alternated going and not going to state every year since 2009. One look at this year’s team gives the impression it will be in Orlando in December.
3. Deerfield Beach: The most improved team in Broward will be ready in Class 8A if Miramar slips.
4. Boyd Anderson: The Cobras have reloaded and should make another run at Aquinas in Class 7A.
5. Cypress Bay: Keeping coach Mark Guandolo was huge. Expect Cypress Bay to challenge Miramar and Deerfield Beach for a return trip to state.
6. Plantation: Still plenty of talent, and it’s likely enough for another playoff trip in Class 7A.
7. Dillard: Coach Lorenzo Davis keeps the Panthers’ return to contender status going with a team that can win District 15-6A.
8. Blanche Ely: Expect the Tigers to be in the mix for a return to the postseason in District 14-7A.
9. Taravella: Solid group, especially up front, could put the Trojans back in the playoffs in the expanded District 11-8A.
10. Monarch: One of the more improved teams in the county. The Knights might sneak into playoffs if they manage a few key district wins.
11. Northeast: Lost a lot and changed coaches. Still talented enough to challenge for a playoff spot in district.
12. Hallandale: Always competitive, but will find it tough in larger District 15-6A.
13. Flanagan: Former FSU star Devin Bush takes over as coach. Falcons will have a tough time cracking the top two, however, in District 12-8A.
14. Archbishop McCarthy: Returning to playoffs will be tough with Dillard, Hallandale and Boynton Beach in the way.
15. Everglades: Coach Art Taylor came over from Cooper City and should make the Gators better right away.
16. McArthur: Tough to see the Mustangs breaking through to the playoffs in a district with Miramar and Cypress Bay.
17. Hollywood Hills: A .500 season looks possible.
18. South Plantation: They’re going to miss the guys who graduated.
19. Stranahan: New coach Willie Hill believes they will be better than 3-7.
20. Western: Losing Wade Freebeck at quarterback hurts.
21. Fort Lauderdale: Getting better, but District 14-7A is tough.
22. Nova: Its young talent may score Titans a 5-5 record.
23. Cooper City: Brandon Walker takes over a team that should be solid defensively.
24. Coral Springs: Needs more offense than 12 points per game to compete.
25. South Broward: New coach Josh Shapiro will try to right the ship after last year’s 0-10 season.
26. Piper: Coach Roger Mitchell tries to stabilize the Bengals, who have had five coaches in eight years.
27. Douglas: Tough to get wins in bigger District 11-8A.
28. Pines Charter: A little more experience helps.
29. Coconut Creek: “Restoring the Roar” will take time.
30. Coral Glades: Any wins would be good building blocks.