American has become proficient at winning district titles.
But taking its success a step further in the playoffs has been a problem.
The Patriots are hoping their move up to Class 8A will end their postseason woes.
American posted a 9-1 record last year for the first time since 1988, yet failed to clear that familiar first-round playoff hurdle, losing to Plantation in that round for the third consecutive season.
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A year later, American is in District 13-8A and in a situation in which it is again favored to win a district title.
But will the change in landscape help the Patriots win their first postseason game since 1997?
“We went 6-4 my sophomore year and we built off that to what we did last season,” American senior cornerback Dawun Hylton said. “But this year is all about redemption for us.”
Hylton (6-0, 175 pounds) is one of seven starters returning on a defense that will again be the strength of the team. The Patriots gave up only 10.5 points per game last season and didn’t allow more than 14 points in any of its nine victories.
Hylton, who started his high school career playing safety but transitioned to cornerback, said he has 13 scholarship offers, including schools such as Wake Forest, Cincinnati, Illinois and Indiana.
American plans to run a 4-3 scheme, but might also incorporate some 4-2-5 formations to accentuate its talented secondary.
In addition to Hylton, safety/linebacker Antoine Webster, an FAU commitment, should play a big role coming off a season in which he totaled 85 tackles and 13 sacks. Juniors Naytron Culpepper, Donelle Thomas and Joshua Dinson each were big contributors last season and figure to play key roles again.
The defensive front is led by senior ends Jamal Smith — who had 10 sacks last season — and Dennis Law, and junior linebacker Enos Lewis.
“American has been known for its strong defenses over the years,” second-year American coach Anthony White said. “We want to set records with our defense and we’re building our team through defense.”
In order to make a playoff push, American will need its offense to be more consistent, particularly late in the season.
The Patriots averaged 37.8 points over their first eight games. But over their last three, including their playoff defeat, that output plummeted to 11.7 points per game.
White’s son, Anthony Jr., is the featured option in that offense. A 6-1, 170-pound junior, White caught 18 passes for over 300 yards last season.
“The offense has had a reconstruction,” Hylton said. “We have a good rotation of running backs and we’ll be able to throw the ball well.”
▪ North Miami has reigned over District 13-8A the past two seasons and given American some of its best competition in non-district matchups.
The Pioneers will have to make up for the loss of 10 starters on offense and seven on defense.
The biggest loss is at quarterback, where the Pioneers must fill in for graduated starter Hilton Joseph, who threw for 5,064 yards and 52 touchdowns over the past two seasons to lead North Miami to back-to-back 9-1 regular seasons. Sophomore Shawn Jean was the most likely prospect for the job in the spring.
North Miami’s talented receiving corps was also hit hard, but senior Henry Payoute should step into a key role.
The Pioneers likely will battle longtime rival North Miami Beach as well. The Chargers will play their typical Iron Man football style led by receiver Dimitri Pierre-Louis.
▪ Steve Smith returned to coach Hialeah and hopes to turn the Thoroughbreds around following a 1-9 season.
▪ Hialeah Gardens is much more confident with 12 starters returning from a team that won a school-best four games in a season after going winless the previous three years.
▪ Dr. Krop could make a move back up the district ranks after two consecutive losing seasons. The Lightning has better senior leadership according to coach David Hudson. Senior defensive lineman Vandrick Verdier and senior wide receiver Max Stein are among them.
DISTRICT 13-8A OVERVIEW
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Anthony White, Jr., American: White and a few other two-way players should bring consistency to a unit that faltered late in the season. He caught 18 passes for over 300 yards last season and is considered one of the most versatile players in the district.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Antoine Webster, American: An FAU commitment, Webster figures to play a key role on both sides of the ball. His biggest value is on defense where he had 85 tackles and 13 sacks in 2014.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. American; 2. North Miami; 3. North Miami Beach; 4. Dr. Krop; 5. Hialeah; 6. Hialeah Gardens.
Aug. 28: Northwestern vs. American (Traz); Sept. 3: American vs. Norland (North Miami Stadium); Sept. 25: American vs. North Miami (North Miami Stadium); Oct. 16: North Miami vs. NMB (N. Miami); Nov. 6: American vs. Carol City (Milander).