Football | Miramar at St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 p.m. Friday

Defenses vie for bragging rights as Miramar, St. Thomas Aquinas clash

 

Miramar has one of the best defenses in the county, but St. Thomas Aquinas’ unit is also full of high-level recruits.

 
Miramar's head coach Damon Cogdell gestures during the Miramar High School vs Plant High School game in the FHSAA Class 8A Football Finals at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, December 17, 2011.
Miramar's head coach Damon Cogdell gestures during the Miramar High School vs Plant High School game in the FHSAA Class 8A Football Finals at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, December 17, 2011.
Al Diaz / Miami Herald Staff

mnavarro@MiamiHerald.com

Even though he’s been asked by assistant coaches over the years to let them take a shot at running his defense on game days, Miramar coach Damon Cogdell hasn’t given up the reigns.

“I can’t give it up,” said Cogdell, who also serves as the school’s athletic director. “When it comes to game preparation time, I do the game plan stuff and I try to let my coaches coach. In the end, it’s a pride thing. We have our kids coached up well enough where I don’t even have to call it from the sideline. They look at the formation [the opponent is in] and know what to line up in.”

Cogdell’s stingy “Dark Side Defense” has long been the standard in Broward County, producing countless Division I recruits such as Miami Hurricanes cornerback Tracy Howard while stuffing opposing offenses like nobody’s business.

But there’s a defense in Broward this season stealing some of the headlines — the one down the road at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Rocco Cassulo’s Raiders, ranked as high as No. 4 in the country, put the clamps on defending national champion John Curtis (La.) last week and blew out tradition-rich Miami Northwestern in their opener.

Loaded with big-name recruits all over the field, the Raiders (2-0) have a stout defensive line led by senior defensive tackle Anthony Moten (6-3, 250) and sophomore sensation Nick Bosa (6-2, 215), South Carolina-bound cornerback Al Harris (6-1, 170) and tough junior linebacker Christopher Hart (6-3, 225).

Miramar (3-0) doesn’t have quite the same name recognition these days, but Cogdell believes his defense can play with anybody, especially coming off wins over the Raiders in back-to-back years. His players see Friday night’s showdown at Aquinas as a statement game, a chance to prove whose defense is really better.

“This series has become like an LSU-Alabama type of rivalry down in Florida,” starting middle linebacker and captain Ryan Samuels said. “We just want to live up to what our guys have done the last few years and win another one.

“Our defense has only let up one touchdown and our second-team defense let up one touchdown this season. We’re looking to turn the lights out on them. We want to put a goose egg up. That’s our goal.”

The Patriots only have a pair of players listed with stars next to their names on recruiting websites — junior cornerback Tyrek Cole (5-11, 160) and senior safety Andre Godfrey (6-0, 190), one of three returning starters.

But Cogdell said he has plenty of juniors and seniors who deserve more attention than they are getting.

Strong side linebacker David Lee (6-3, 220) is tops among them.

“Right now I think he’s one of the most dominant players in Broward County,” Cogdell said. “He was playing defensive tackle for us last year and we ne needed him at linebacker. Him and [University of Miami linebacker and former Patriot] Jermaine Grace are built alike. He’s actually bigger.

“Illinois, Western Michigan, West Virginia are all showing interest in him. [Florida coach Will] Muschamp came out to the game last week and was drooling over him. I think he’s an SEC/ACC type kid.”

Samuels, a likely Ivy League-bound recruit with a 5.8 GPA, leads the team in tackles and is the leader of the linebacker unit.

“He’s my baby Zach Thomas,” Cogdell said. “Schools can sleep on that kid if they want to, but he’s going to make it big some day.”

Senior cornerback Jeffrey Hill (5-9, 175) doesn’t have any scholarship offers yet, but his teammates refer to him as the Honey Badger because he plays a physical, in your face style as former LSU All-American Tyrann Mathieu.

“I know things are on lock when I got Cole Island on the left and Honey Badger on the right,” Samuels said. “Honey Badger sees the ball and he’s all over. He’s a pesky animal.”

Hill said Aquinas’ offense will present Miramar’s stiffest test this season. But he’s confident the secondary can shut the Raiders’ star-studded receiving corps down.

“Davante Peete has tremendous size. [Corey] Holmes is quick. No. 8 [Claudeny Jeudy] has good footwork,” Hill said. “But me and Tyrek, we can lock them down.”

Lee believes the chemistry Miramar’s defense has built playing together since their junior varsity days (the Patriots are coming off back-to-back undefeated JV seasons) will make a difference.

“They have an old school offense, pound the rock,” Samuels said. “That fits our style, win it in the trenches. We’re battling their strength with our strength.”

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