Football season is upon us and teams have already begun practicing statewide.
It’s no surprise several of South Florida’s best teams will open the season on the national radar.
Eight teams from Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, including the four schools that brought home state titles in 2016, are ranked in at least one poll.
Two-time national champion St. Thomas Aquinas leads the pack after coming in ranked No. 5 in both USA Today and MaxPreps’ Top 100 polls released in the past week.
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A pair of close defeats held the Raiders last season from winning a third mythical national title. Aquinas, however, won its 10th state championship and triumphed in the postseason Geico Showcase, beating nationally-ranked Utah powerhouse Bingham.
The Raiders will open this season Aug. 25th at home against California powerhouse St. John Bosco in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Bosco is ranked No. 3 by USA Today, and as high as No. 1 by High School Football America, after winning California’s state Open Division Bowl championship.
Aquinas returns a stacked defense, primarily in the secondary which is led by senior corners Al Blades, Jr. (UM commit), Asante Samuel (FSU commit) and Trenell Troutman (Louisville commit). That unit will try to slow down the potent Bosco tandem of quarterback Re-al Mitchell (Iowa State commit) and running back Demetrious Flowers (Arizona State commit)
The Raiders will also travel to play 2016 Arizona Class 5A state runner-up Centennial on Sept. 29, and face several of Broward County’s best including Deerfield Beach and Miramar.
In addition to a national crown, Aquinas is seeking its fourth consecutive state title, which would match the state record shared by Miami Central, Miami Booker T. Washington, Tallahassee North Florida Christian and Live Oak Suwannee.
Carol City cracked the top 20 in both polls, checking in at No. 17 by MaxPreps and No. 20 by USA Today.
The Chiefs won their first state title since 2003 last year and return several key players including senior quarterback Marlon Smith, and a loaded backfield led by senior Cam’ron Davis (UM commit) and junior Nay’quan Wright that got stronger with the addition of Northern Illinois commit Legend Moore, a senior transfer from Hallandale.
Defensively, senior linebacker Yasir Abdullah (Louisville commit) and defensive back Randy Russell lead the Chiefs in their quest to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1996-1997.
The Chiefs play IMG Academy in the preseason and will contend with Northwestern, Norland and Central in their district as well as a tough opener against Deerfield Beach.
Coming off its third state title in four years, Plantation American Heritage is ranked No. 12 by MaxPreps. The Patriots completed the only unbeaten season by a South Florida team in the state series last year and are led by All-American cornerback Patrick Surtain, Jr.
The Patriots face Booker T. Washington on Aug. 18 in a preseason classic and open the regular season with back-to-back games against nationally-ranked Bishop Sullivan (Va.) and Liberty (Nev.) before taking on Miramar and Chaminade later in September.
Booker T. Washington’s four-year state title run was interrupted last season with a state semifinal loss to Cocoa.
The Tornadoes, ranked No. 11 by USA Today, have reloaded and appear capable of starting a new championship streak led by junior quarterback Daniel Richardson and senior linebacker Jaquan Beaver leading the way.
If Booker T. can survive one of the toughest schedules in the country, which includes games against American Heritage, Central, Southridge, Northwestern, Columbus, Chaminade and Carol City, it might find itself in the national title discussion.
Central, which missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2005, will be a serious contender in the brutal District 16-6A, which includes Carol City and rivals Northwestern and Norland.
A Rockets’ revival will depend on a return to their stifling defensive ways. That unit will be led by senior defensive ends Robert Hicks (Louisville commit) and Malik Edwards as well as a secondary led by Chandler Jones and Davonta Wilson. Transfers Dwayne Boyles and Darnell Vickers will fortify the defense as well. Senior running back James Cook also needs to have a big season reminiscent of his older brother, Dalvin Cook.
Among Central’s challenging schedule are road dates at Las Vegas to play USA Today No. 4 Bishop Gorman and No. 2 IMG Academy.
Northwestern beat Carol City for the District 16-6A title and came close to eliminating them in the second round of the playoffs. The Bulls, led by versatile quarterback Tutu Atwell, debut at No. 33 by MaxPreps and hope this is the season they can win their first state title in a decade. The Bulls will also take a road trip to play No. 2 IMG in addition to its tough local schedule.
Southridge won its first state title since 1993 a year ago, and sent over 20 players to major FBS schools. The Spartans start ranked No. 43 by MaxPreps and are still strong enough to make a run in Class 8A. A wide receiving corps led by Mark Pope and Daquris Wiggins should have the Spartans back in contention.
Led by running back Shaun Shivers (Auburn commit) and Xavier Williams (Alabama commit), the Lions are low on the national radar at No. 74 by MaxPreps. Look for that to change quickly if they get off to a fast start in games against Central, Miramar and American Heritage over the first month.