Gregory Rousseau could be wearing the University of Miami’s “Turnover Chain” very soon.
Rousseau, a 6-6, 230-pound senior defensive end at Champagnat Catholic, spent the whole summer making sure he’d arrive at Coral Gables as early as possible.
Rousseau said during Champagnat’s practice Thursday in Orlando that he plans to sign with the Hurricanes on December 20th when players are allowed for the first time to ink their letters of intent with colleges earlier than February’s National Signing Day.
“It was tough, but I took some online courses over the summer and extra classes and I just had to get it done,” Rousseau said. “It’s a great opportunity and you have to take advantage of those in life.”
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While Rousseau is excited about his future, it’s the present that he and his Champagnat Catholic School teammates are focused on.
The Lions (8-2) are back at the state finals for the second consecutive season and will take on Jacksonville University Christian on Friday at 10 a.m. at Camping World Stadium in a rematch of last year’s final that they lost 24-8.
Champagnat is aiming to win its second state title after winning its first in 2013.
Rousseau, who lined up mainly at wide receiver last season, switched to his natural defensive end spot this year and has been one of the stalwarts on a Lions’ defense that has recorded 52 sacks and forced 26 turnovers in 10 games.
As many high school teams have in some fashion or another in the wake of UM’s turnover chain fervor, Champagnat made its own jewelry to reward one of its own when they force a takeaway.
But so no one gets left out, Champagnat athletic director Isabel Alonso surprised the team on Thursday by passing out red T-shirts to all the players and coaches with a gold turnover chain printed on the front.
The Lions plan to wear these pregame on Friday.
“It motivates you to go out there and make a play,” said sophomore Johnquai Lewis, who wore his ‘Champagnat turnover chain’ for the first time after causing two turnovers in a state semifinal win over Cambridge Christian.
Rousseau hasn’t had the chance to put on the chain yet this season, but he’s impacted the game plenty on defense with his 75 tackles and eight sacks. He’s also provided a valuable target for Champagnat’s offense near the goal line as a big target in the end zone catching five passes — three of which have been for touchdowns.
Rousseau was able to transition to defense with the added depth on offense Champagnat had this season, which coach Dennis Marroquin hopes will give his team a better chance than a year ago when it was held to only 149 yards and set a state finals record-low with minus-42 rushing yards.
Quarterback Desjaun Kearse, who transferred from Flanagan, has been able to spread the ball to talented receivers such as Lewis, sophomore Marc Britt (a UM target) and senior Jahani Wright.
The running game led by Calvin Montgomery has totaled 1,626 yards this season behind a huge starting group of offensive linemen whose average size is 6-3, 289-pounds.
“I think we’re a more mature team overall and we’ve jelled at the right time,” Marroquin said. “The line is so much better and learning from playing on a big stage as freshmen was huge for those guys.”
Playing full-time on defense has helped sophomore Jesus Machado (19 sacks), who got an offer from Alabama in the eighth grade and even a visit from Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban, and FIU commitment Donovan Georges (13 sacks) thrive in Champagnat’s pass rush.
Senior cornerback and FAU target Noah Pierre has recorded a team-high four interceptions as the secondary has capitalized on many opportunities.
Senior linebackers Keyshon and Dishon Gardner, who both transferred from Flanagan before the season, have been at the heart of the defensive effort as well. Keyshon has an interception and two forced fumbles this season.
Gardner said this run to state has reminded him a lot of Flanagan’s surge in 2015 when it won a state title in Class 8A.
“All week just the way everything has been going and the way all of us have been making plays during the playoffs, it reminds us of how everything came together that season over there,” Gardner said.
If you go
What: The 55th state football championships.
When: Through Saturday.
Where: Camping World Stadium, 1 Citrus Bowl Place, Orlando.
Tickets: $12-$17 in advance, $15-$20 at the gate; Parking: $10.
2016 state champions — Class 8A: Miami Southridge; 7A: Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas; 6A: Miami Carol City; 5A: Plantation American Heritage; 4A: Cocoa; 3A: Jacksonville Trinity Christian; 2A: Jacksonville University Christian; 1A: Pahokee.
Thursday’s results — Class 1A: Madison County 35, Blountstown 20; Class 4A: Cocoa vs. Jacksonville Raines, inc.
Friday’s games — Class 2A: Hialeah Champagnat Catholic vs. Jacksonville University Christian, 10 a.m.; Class 5A: Plantation American Heritage vs. Baker County, 3; Class 6A: Miami Northwestern vs. Seffner Armwood, 8.
Saturday’s games — Class 3A: Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna vs. West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, 10 a.m.; Class 7A: Venice vs. St. Johns Bartram Trail, 3; Class 8A: Delray Beach Atlantic vs. Orlando Dr. Phillips, 8.
CLASS 2A — CHAMPAGNAT (8-2) vs. UNIVERSITY CHRISTIAN (10-2)
Coaches — CCS: Dennis Marroquin (3rd year, 27-10); UC: David Penland III (seventh year, 70-19).
How they got here — CCS: d. Naples St. John Neumann 44-12; Moore Haven 47-0; Tampa Cambridge Christian 38-0; UC: d. Tallahassee FAMU 35-0; Tallahassee North Florida Christian 26-13; Lakeland Victory Christian 28-7.
Playoff history — CCS: 10-1 (won state title in 2013); UC: 45-19 (won state titles in 1973, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994, 2012, 2015, 2016).
Probable offensive starters — CCS: QB Desjaun Kearse, 5-10, 185, Sr.; LT Khiry Stubbs, 6-5, 305, Jr.; RT Jovens Janvier, 6-4, 300, So.; OG Dalvin Montas, 6-0, 255, Jr.; C Alan Louis, 6-1, 300, So.; OG Michael Cartwright, 6-7, 285, Jr.; RB Calvin Montgomery, 5-10, 205, So.; WR Marc Britt, 6-2, 190, So.; WR Jonquai Lewis, 6-0, 175, So.; WR Jahani Wright, 5-10, 170, Sr.; WR Leon McClain, 5-10, 170, Sr.; K Daryn Jones, 6-1, 210, Jr.; UC: QB Clay Boyd, 6-0, 180, Sr.; WR T.J. Ciresi, 6-1, 170, Sr.; WR Jon Jones, 6-1, 180, Jr.; WR Jaedon Stoshak, 6-0, 170, Jr.; RB Malik Brown, 5-11, 190, Jr.; RB Jalen Dunnigan, 5-11, 175, Sr.; C Nick Robertson, 6-1, 275, Sr.; G Matt Craig, 6-1, 250, Fr.; G Alex Hamler, 6-0, 250, Sr.; OT Caleb Thomas, 6-3, 275, Jr.; OT Oake Stipe, 6-5, 285, Sr.; K Sami Safar, 6-0, 155, Jr.
Probable defensive starters — CCS: CB Noah Pierre, 5-10, 185, Sr.; CB Johnquai Lewis, 6-0, 170, So.; FS Rony Boudreau, 5-9, 175, So.; LB Keyshon Gardner, 5-9, 185, Sr.; LB Donovan Georges, 6-2, 230, Sr.; LB Donald Georges, 5-11, 215, Jr.; LB Daryn Jones, 6-1, 210, Jr.; DE Gregory Rousseau, 6-6, 230, Sr.; DE Jesus Machado, 6-1, 210, So.; DT Kaleb Evans, 5-10, 240, So.; DT Ezekiel Figueroa, 5-10, 240, So.; P Noah Pierre, 5-10, 185, Sr.; UC: FS Dyrell Stubbs, 5-9, 169, Sr.; DB Javon Huey, 5-9, 155, Sr.; DB Jon Jones, 6-1, 180, Jr.; LB Shannon Mickens, 5-10, 200, Sr.; LB Joseph Carter, Fr.; TB Uriah Ratliff, 5-11, 175, Jr.; TB Josh Worthy, 5-11, 167, Sr.; DE Caleb Worthy, Sr.; DE Derrick Stumph, 6-2, 175, Jr.; DT Rodney Rivers, 6-2, 232, Sr.; DT Chris Lewis, 5-10, 220, Sr.; P Derrick Stumph, 6-2, 175, Jr.