Who will win District 15-7A this season?
The answer used to be automatic - St. Thomas Aquinas.
But when the new district realignment came out in January, the likes of Nova and Hollywood Hills, forever nothing more than ants that the Raiders would stomp on tearing their way through the district each season, were likely celebrating in unison.
St. Thomas, along with Plantation, traditionally the second-best team in that district moved out, Aquinas one stop north in 14-7A and the Colonels up to 8A.
And just like that the district race came wide open.
Hollywood Hills coach Al Lang came very close to making the playoffs last year, losing a 35-33 heartbreaker to Plantation that ultimately determined the runner-up spot enroute to a 5-5 season so Lang and the Spartans will be licking their chops.
But so will Nova and Cooper City. Both were relatively competitive last season going 4-6 and figure to be very much in the mix this season with the district being so even. Don’t believe us? Just see what the coaches had to say.
“I’m not going to miss them, that’s for sure," said Lang when asked about Aquinas and Plantation. "Now we have a very favorable district and you can sense the excitement with the kids. We’re coming off a good offseason in which we had a great deal of success with our 7-on-7 camps so we’re anxious to get things started."
"It definitely motivates you when year-after-year you’re dealing with the likes of Miramar, Flanagan and Cypress Bay, perennial powerhouses in the state, you’re always kind of on the outside looking in," said Cooper City coach Brandon Walker whose team dropped down from 8A but had to deal with Aquinas as well when they were in 7A just a few years back. "When you play certain teams week-to-week and you know you’re out-athleted it can get discouraging but now you can sense the excitement from our kids during the offseason knowing we have a legitimate shot. With our district now our kids feel like we have a legitimate shot to win it or make the playoffs which obviously is very motivating."
"It definitely gives you some positive aspects to look at for sure," said brand new Nova head coach Kevin Huntley. "Obviously you don’t have the big 900 pound giant in your district any more so it brings everybody else into play when it comes to winning the district. But the bottom line is that we’re just in a position where we need to take things week-by-week and deal with whoever is in front of us and avoid looking any further than that."
Walker was hit heavy by graduation as Cooper City graduated 20 seniors off last year’s team and will have just four starters returning on both sides of the ball.
But he said he’s happy to have a talented group of junior varsity players moving up. The Cowboys will be led by two-way starter Rashad Weaver (6-5, 245) who plays defensive end and tight end and will anchor both sides of the line. Patrick Pulliam will be where Cooper City turns for the big play as he rushed for over 1,000 yards last season and had four kickoff returns for scores.
Like Cooper City, Hills also will return just four starters on each side of ball and Lang will lean heavily on running back Donavan Henderson Jr., the 5-7, 200 lb. senior who rushed for over 600 yards last season and should find success running behind an experienced and big offensive line led by senior Michael Jentcsh.
Huntley was promoted from within at Nova replacing Frank Hepler who moved out of town after just one year at the school and inherits a program that has one of the longest playoff droughts in Broward County having last seen the postseason in 1994.
"It’s time to establish a new culture," said Huntley. "We’re really trying to break through because we’ve been on the cuff the last few years and just trying to change the mindset and the philosophy in the way we go about things at the school is imperative and we’re really excited and looking forward to the season."
THE REST OF THE PACK
▪ South Broward: The Bulldogs have gone 7-33 over the past four seasons and last season was brutal as they won just one game and were outscored 309-89 along the way. DeVon Georgia was hired last January replacing Josh Shapiro who became the school’s athletic director.
▪ McArthur: The Mustangs suffered through their second winless campaign since 2010 when they went 0-10 last season and thus ended Buster Davis’ one season at the helm. McArthur alum LaRon Culpepper now comes in with a completely revamped coaching staff for a program that has nowhere to go but up.
▪ West Broward: The Bobcats spent the last two years as an independent and are now headed back into district play and will have a lot to improve off of last season’s 1-9 record that saw them get give up an eye-popping 424 points, scoring just 79.
Patrick Pulliam, Cooper City: Pulliam ran for over 1,000 yards and returned four kickoffs for touchdowns for the Cowboys last season. If Cooper City is to make a playoff push, Pulliam will have to play a key role again.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Hollywood Hills; 2. Nova; 3. Cooper City; 4. South Broward; 5. McArthur; 6. West Broward.
CAN’T MISS GAMES
Sept. 18, Cooper City vs. Hollywood Hills; Oct. 16, Nova at Cooper City; Oct. 23, Hollywood Hills at Nova.