It’s unlike the dynasties you see in professional sports where Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan combine for five Spurs championships and Bill Belichick and Tom Brady get four together with the Patriots.
Booker T. Washington doesn’t see nearly the same continuity with its coach and player it has starting at the most important position on a football team.
With a 43-23 victory over Jacksonville Raines, Booker T. won its fourth Class 4A state championship in a row, tying the state record for longest championship win streak. Even more impressive than the streak itself, the Tornadoes won the past three titles with three different quarterbacks and three different coaches — and losing several other key players this season to graduation and transfers.
First, legendary Booker T. coach Tim “Ice” Harris went back-to-back with son Treon Harris at quarterback their final two years together. As Treon moved on to UF, Tim took a job as running backs coach with UM, and another one of Harris’ sons in offensive coordinator Tim Harris Jr. was handed the reins. Harris Jr. inherited a key transfer from one-time Homestead quarterback Maurice Alexander, and they combined to make it three in a row.
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This time, after Harris Jr. took a similar position with FIU as his father took with the Hurricanes, Earl Tillman was promoted from offensive line coach for his second stint as head coach. He teamed up with freshman sensation Daniel Richardson, who wasn’t even the projected starter coming into the season but took over and compiled more than 2,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns this season.
“It’s the next man up,” said Alexander, who redshirted his freshman season with FIU and was in attendance at the Citrus Bowl. “I’m pretty sure that the kids that left felt like they should’ve stayed, but the program works hard enough so that when somebody leaves, it won’t define the program."
With three seasons still ahead of him, Richardson will have plenty of time to add to what’s already looking like an impressive legacy.
Although coaches have changed, their values don’t lie far from each other as the Tornadoes keep the program within a tight-knit family.
Harris Sr. and Harris Jr. were a seamless transition. Tillman was on the staff as an assistant under each of the two and had previous head coaching experience with the Tornadoes.
“It says something about how they’re built here,” said Brandon Harris, another son of Tim who graduated from Booker T. in 2008, is now with the Tennessee Titans and was in attendance Saturday. “They’re built around great people, great athletes, and guys are really learning from each other. Every head coach leaves something for the next, and they each incorporate their own style. It’s successful. It’s a proven system.”
The mere fact that Booker T. reached the state final after an unimpressive regular season was remarkable. The manner in which the Tornadoes hung tough in the first half while Raines manhandled them on the ground, dominating time of possession (holding the ball five times as long as Booker T.) while running 47 first-half plays to Booker T.’s 15, was a microcosm of how they hung tough all season.
The Tornadoes suffered a tough loss to St. Thomas Aquinas to open the season, and also fell against Jackson, Northwestern, Central and Columbus.
Some positives came about too, with a few landslide victories, including a 45-20 beatdown of Gulliver to put the Tornadoes in the driver’s seat in District 8-4A.
It culminated in a 5-5 record in the regular season, but Booker T. then rammed its way through the 4A playoff bracket.
“Once the regular season passed, it went to a 0-0 record,” Alexander said. “Everyone just had to step up. It was do or die. They knew they couldn’t lose. They knew they had a lot at stake.”
Through all the ups and downs, all the head coaches and all the quarterbacks, one thing remains: Booker T. as state champion.