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STORIES
DISTRICT CAPSULES
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2008 Broward High School Football Preview
Big school breakdown
DEFENSIVE STANCE: From left, St. Thomas Aquinas' Conor O'Neill, Bill Nesselt, Gabe Holmes and Dezmen Southward. At bottom is Stephen Bravo Brown, Duron Carter, Dwayne Difton. AL DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

That is up for a healthy debate. St. Thomas Aquinas, the defending Class 5A champion, can make a strong case. After all, this team is returning loads of talent on offense, with quarterback Ryan Becker, receivers Duron Carter, Dwayne Difton and Gabe Holmes, running backs Gio Bernard and James White and a line that includes Brandon Linder. The defense features just two starters from a year ago, but St. Thomas Aquinas' young defensive players are future stars.

Deerfield Beach can stake a claim as the county's top team. Deerfield Beach took Miami Northwestern, the mythical national champion in 2007, to the final seconds before losing in a state semifinal last year. Also, Deerfield Beach has defeated St. Thomas Aquinas three times in the past four years half of St. Thomas Aquinas' losses in that time (the other three were against Lakeland in the state championship games from 2005 to 2007).

For now, I'm giving the nod to St. Thomas Aquinas. Fortunately, the teams play Oct. 17, so the debate could be settled then. Unless Cypress Bay, Plantation, Miramar, Dillard or anyone else forces their way into the discussion.

1. ST. THOMAS AQUINAS

As mentioned above, the Raiders' offense is stocked with prime recruits. Look for St. Thomas, ranked in the top five nationally by several polls, to pull out a last-minute victory over Deerfield Beach and then become Broward's first back-to-back state champion.

2. DEERFIELD BEACH

Yes, the Bucks are going to win a championship. Class 6A is tough, but quarterback Denard Robinson seems to have a certain "it" factor and will lead his nationally ranked team to the top.

3. CYPRESS BAY

The fact the Lightning is in this debate so soon is a testament to coach Mark Guandolo's rapid building process. He inherited talent from the previous regime, but he also attracted new talent and developed what was there. I predict a Class 6A regional final between Deerfield Beach and the District 11-6A champion. For the winner, a state championship is in reach. "It's going to be tough, but that's our goal," Guandolo said. ``There are so many strong teams in South Florida in Class 6A. Anybody can step up and win. We're definitely going to contend. We have enough talent. It's the second year of the program. We're all getting to know each other better. We're going to have an exciting year. We're looking forward to it."

4. MIRAMAR

Be careful to assume that Cypress Bay will win District 11-6A. Miramar, which is built around highly regarded quarterback Eugene Smith, could defeat district rival Cypress Bay to proclaim supremacy in the south end of Broward. Whether it is Cypress Bay or Miramar, expect the district winner to play host to Miami-Dade powerhouse North Miami Beach in the second round of the playoffs.

5. PLANTATION

Plantation, which struggled to win more than four games in each of the past two seasons, could be among Broward's elite, led by top players Brandon McGee and Josh Robinson.

6. DILLARD

The Panthers, entering their second season under coach Keith Franklin, should prove to be a tough opponent. Trabis Ward is among the best running backs in the county. Michael Barasch broke Broward's season rushing record last year, and do not be surprised to see him challenge the record again in 2008.

7. BOYD ANDERSON

Quarterbacks Kenneth Graham Jr. and Jackie Wilson will key the offense, which should be potent with Tony Hughes and Douglas transfer John Wallace as the running backs. The biggest question is, can the Cobras put last season's upset loss to Douglas in the regional quarterfinals behind them?

8. HOLLYWOOD HILLS

The Spartans get the nod over District 16-5A rival South Broward here, based on five consecutive seasons in the playoffs. But it would not be surprising to see the teams switch places this year. Hollywood Hills is talented, although the strength is in its junior class.

9. SOUTH BROWARD

Although missing a superstar player, the Bulldogs have a deep team, which is led by offensive tackle Steven Jacques and defensive end/linebacker Trevaughn Faircloth.

10. BLANCHE ELY

Patrick Johnson is gone, but the Tigers return a solid team, which includes star cornerback Mike Carter. A playoff appearance is likely, although not a certainty for Blanche Ely and first-season coach Lawal McCray.

11. PIPER

The Bengals have 16 returning starters from a team that forced a district tiebreaker. An influx of new talent, including running back Deshaun Sands and linebacker Kerry King Brown, has put the Bengals in position to pull off an upset or two and reach the postseason.

12. EVERGLADES

Despite returning 15 starters -- including linebacker Roderic Blunt -- the Gators likely are a long shot to reach the postseason. It is not for a lack of talent. The main factor is playing in a district that includes Cypress Bay and Miramar.

13. COCONUT CREEK

Former Monarch coach Allen Jackson reinstated the Wing-T offense, and he should help revamp a defense that took a major step backward in 2007.

14. SOUTH PLANTATION

The Paladins went from the regional finals two years ago to potentially out of the playoffs this season, with district games against Plantation, Boyd Anderson and Piper. The coaching staff, led by Rich Maresco, has worked wonders before, so don't count out the Paladins.

15. FLANAGAN

Coach Donald Simon has done wonders in his brief tenure at Flanagan. But like Everglades, Flanagan is in a district with Cypress Bay and Miramar.

16. TARAVELLA

Junior running back Devon Wright could be among the best players in the nation in the Class of 2010. Wright is an impact player, and he could lead Taravella into the playoffs as the district runner-up to Deerfield Beach.

17. NORTHEAST

There is lots of talent under coach Adam Ratkevich, but the district is probably too tough.

18. McARTHUR

Strong performances in summer camps proved the Mustangs are restoring their program. The breakthrough likely is another season away.

19. DOUGLAS

New coach Al Lang will be hard-pressed to duplicate last season's success now that quarterback David Noshay is off to college.

20. WESTERN

The Wildcats were just 1-9 last season. With new coach Rashad West in charge, you can expect them to win a few more games.

21. COOPER CITY

The Cowboys won seven games last year, but a bulk of that team is gone. They could struggle in coach Mike Manning's first season.

22. CORAL GLADES

There is enough talent on offense to create optimism, but the team enters the season with less talent than many of its district opponents.

23. CORAL SPRINGS

Like so many others in Broward, the Colts appear to be building for the future. Still, with a weak district, anything can happen.

24. STRANAHAN

The Dragons made strides under coach Joe Redmond, but they likely need another year or two before they can contend.

25. MONARCH

The loss of running back Deshaun Sands to Piper, plus an overhaul of the coaching staff, could mean a long season is in store for the Knights.

26. WEST BROWARD

The county's newest school opens this year and must start from scratch, which is why the team is in the last spot.

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