Jacory Harris, Sean Spence, Lavonte David, Marcus Forston, Tommy Streeter, Aldarius Johnson … remember when these guys wore Miami Northwestern uniforms?
It has been a decade.
That’s how long the Bulls and their fans have been deprived of a state championship.
Since then, Northwestern has watched rival Miami Central blossom into a juggernaut that has won five state titles in seven seasons.
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Last season, the Bulls watched as Miami Carol City sent them home in the second round of the playoffs and proceeded to end its own 13-year, state-championship drought.
So with a team that appears to be its strongest arguably since that national championship team is the “Year of the Bull?”
1. Northwestern: Chatarius “Tutu” Atwell is entering his senior season as the Bulls’ quarterback. The University of Louisville commit has been at the heart of this Northwestern renaissance that has seen it return to contender status.
The championship ring is all that is missing for Miami-Dade County’s best dual-threat quarterback.
Atwell has plenty of weapons around him this season such as senior receivers Nigel Bethel and Justin Hill and senior running backs Bo Kendrick and Kiaryn Davis, along with junior Jacquez Stuart. They are ready to pick up where Kai Henry left off last season and carry the load.
The offensive line protecting Atwell is anchored by junior tackle Mark Fox, who has several FBS schools, including Florida, offering him a scholarship and senior guard Terron Carey.
Northwestern’s defense could make a legitimate claim as one of the nation’s best.
UF commit Divaad Wilson, a senior cornerback, has emerged as one of the team’s leaders. He will anchor the secondary along with corner Thomas Burns, Georgia commit Rachad Wildgoose and Bethel, a UM target, who will likely see action on defense as well.
The front seven figures to be even more dominant than a year ago.
Senior Davontae McCrae, an NC State commit, UCF commit Demetrius Mayes and junior Sam Brooks, a UM target, should make life difficult for their opposition all season.
Central and Carol City, as well as Miami Norland, present major obstacles in District 16-6A, and potentially the postseason if any or all of the four make it with at-large bids.
If the Bulls would have prevented a late Carol City touchdown last season in the playoffs, they could have been holding the trophy in Orlando a month later.
They appear to have enough to finish the job this time.
2. Central: The Rockets are fueled by last year’s disappointment of missing the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Their opening-week thrashing of a very good Chaminade-Madonna team displayed a balanced offense and a punishing defense that seems to have recaptured the aggressive style it had during its run of five state titles in seven years.
James Cook might look like his brother, Dalvin Cook, wear his same number and run like him, but he’s ready to make his own name this season.
He’s not alone in the backfield.
Emerging stars such as freshman Amari Daniels and Lexington Joseph will make this team a force throughout the season.
Louisville commit Robert Hicks and Dwayne Boyles are a couple of the stalwarts on a defensive front that should be one of the stingiest in the country against the run.
What Central can get from its passing game and how much its elite secondary, led by Chandler Jones, Arthur Braithwaite and Davonta Wilson, can shut down the potent offenses in its district will determine if the Rockets can return to Orlando and add a sixth ring to their collection.
3. Carol City: The Chiefs changed coaches in the offseason as Aubrey Hill and Damon Cogdell each took college jobs at FIU and USF, respectively. Former Booker T. Washington assistant coach and alum Benedick Hyppolite was hired in the offseason and entrusted with keeping Carol City at the top.
Hyppolite has plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense with a pair of talented running backs — UM commit Cam’ron Davis and Nay’quan Wright.
A defense loaded with major FBS recruits, such as defensive backs Randy Russell, Mark Carter and Kewan Parker, and linebacker Yasir Abdullah will try to be as stingy as the team that allowed the fewest yards per game in South Florida a year ago.
If their offense can produce against the stingy defenses it will encounter then back-to-back state titles will be within reach for the Chiefs.
4. Southridge: The Spartans gave up the fewest points of any team in Dade or Broward last year and shut out eight teams. That defense isn’t as depleted as some might believe and should still rank among the best.
The key to a repeat in Class 8A will be Southridge’s offense, which was inconsistent at times last season but always seemed to make the key plays when needed most. Receivers Mark Pope and Daquris Wiggins are back as is quarterback Michael Cox, who will operate behind a line anchored by Deleone Scaife.
5. Columbus: The Explorers took a step back last season after falling to rival Coral Gables in the regional semifinals. Some aren’t expecting a team that advanced to state in 2014 and advanced to the state semifinals four times in five years to seriously contend. That would be a misconception. Expect the Explorers to remain among the most likely to break through Region 4-8A and challenge Broward County’s survivor for a trip to state.
RANKING THE REST
6. Norland, 7. South Dade, 8. Palmetto, 9. Coral Gables, 10. Miami High, 11. Doral Academy, 12. Belen Jesuit, 13. North Miami Beach, 14. Dr. Krop, 15. Mater Academy, 16. Reagan, 17. North Miami, 18. Killian, 19. American, 20. Hialeah, 21. Goleman, 22. Homestead, 23. Miami Springs, 24. Coral Reef, 25. Hialeah-Miami Lakes, 26. Miami Beach, 27. Braddock, 28. Sunset, 29. Ferguson, 30. Southwest; 31. South Miami, 32. Coral Park, 33. Varela, 34. Hialeah Gardens, 35. Mourning, 36. Westland Hialeah.