The revamped District 14-7A begins and ends with St. Thomas Aquinas. But although the Raiders should cruise to a district title, the true regular-season conversation will be about which team will claim the runner-up playoff berth.
In the three-team district, it will come down to the Fort Lauderdale-Blanche Ely matchup Oct. 2 at Fort Lauderdale High.
Last season the Tigers (district winner) and Flying L’s (runner-up) made postseason appearances, but that was before the inclusion of Aquinas and departure of Northeast and Boyd Anderson, who went a combined 1-19. This year, with a more experienced group, Fort Lauderdale could surpass Ely to earn the No. 2 spot behind Aquinas.
Fort Lauderdale’s playoff appearance last year snapped a 10-year drought, but coach Richard Dunbar’s squad is not ready to settle. Instead, the Flying L’s will use their crushing 44-13 defeat to Royal Palm Beach in the regional quarterfinals as motivation.
“It’s not the fact that we lost, it’s the way we lost,” Dunbar said last week. “We knew at the end of the game we did not play our best game with guys that were overwhelmed just making it [to the postseason].”
Fort Lauderdale’s defense is led by a pair of three-star senior recruits in linebacker Dallas Jeanty (committed to Wisconsin) and defensive end Jaquwan Nelson (UM).
“We’re three steps ahead of where we were last summer,” Dunbar said. “The guys want it just as much as we do. It’s just refreshing to know that we’re on our way.”
Dunbar feels Jeanty is coming into his own as an outspoken leader on the team. The scholar-athlete with a 3.6 grade-point average, 1920 SAT, 29 ACT and offers from multiple Ivy League schools to go with his Power Five conference offers also brings intensity to the gridiron.
“I feel like I just bring aggression to the table,” Jeanty said. “Even Coach will say I might not be heading in the right direction but I’ll be heading in the wrong direction a million miles an hour.”
The word out of the preseason is that the Flying L’s might even use Jeanty and Nelson on opposite ends in certain pass-rushing scenarios.
“It’s very dangerous,” Nelson says. “It’ll give our defensive backs and linebackers some help.”
Seniors in the secondary who will be appreciative if they don’t have to cover for too long include Kevin “KT” Thomas and Duane Smith.
Offensively, the Flying L’s return leading receiver Junior Demelien and three-year starter Torri Young, who as a junior is spearheading the offensive line at center.
With 15 starters returning, Fort Lauderdale is looking to make it two playoff appearances in a row.
As is the case nearly every year, Aquinas will start the season competing for a national title.
The eight-time state champion and two-time national champ is ranked fifth nationally in the USA Today Super 25 in Roger Harriott’s first year at the helm.
St. Thomas’ schedule does not include out-of-state games as it has in recent years. Last season, after an early loss to New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep in West Point, N.Y., Aquinas romped through the remainder of its schedule, including the trouncing of its four district foes by a combined 221-0.
Aquinas will find it difficult to match that number this time around, but mostly because it has only two district games.
This year the Raiders will challenge themselves with out-of district games against Miramar, Flanagan, Hallandale and a nationally-televised game against Booker T. Washington, winner of a Dade County-record 41 in a row, although the Tornadoes don’t return many starters.
One of the slew of transfers the Raiders received is former Booker T. standout defensive back Dontye Carriere-Williams. New quarterback Jake Allen jumped in from Cardinal Gibbons. He’ll throw to Michael Irvin II, who came over from Texas to join his Hall of Fame father’s alma mater. Offensive lineman Louie Berkowitz also transferred from American Heritage.
They all join an extremely talented crop of Raiders that includes five-star prospects in senior defensive end Nick Bosa, junior wide receiver Trevon Grimes and senior four-star slot receiver Sam Bruce.
ELY A TOUGH OUT
Ely has made it to the playoffs 14 of the past 16 seasons, and in order to extend that streak, the Tigers’ fate will in all likelihood come down to that one meeting with Fort Lauderdale, assuming both fall to St. Thomas.
Bringing Aquinas into the district was not a decision welcomed by Ely coach Nakia Jenkins.
“To be honest with you, the new district, it [stinks],” Jenkins said. “It’s just not fair to put us in the same district with St. Thomas.”
Jenkins said if he had his way he would’ve made it a four-team district with Aquinas out of it and in Class 8A.
At the same time, Jenkins does like the opportunity the St. Thomas game presents from a developmental standpoint to show his players what it’s going to take to compete at a higher level.
The Tigers have a pair of solid running backs in Arthur Forrest, who led the team in touchdowns last season, and Demeterice Bellamy, last year’s team MVP.
Wide receiver Thomas Geddis is the group’s most highly-recruited prospect with 13 offers, including one from Wisconsin. Wauntavious Mcelhaney is a three-year starter on the offensive line, leading the unit from left guard and center. The defense will be directed by senior linebacker David Francis.
DISTRICT 14-7A OVERVIEW
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
▪ Sam Bruce, Aquinas: The top-of-the-line four-star senior slot receiver committed to UM is without question the most dangerous player in the open field in South Florida — and perhaps in the nation. He can juke any defender out of his cleats from any angle and, even at 5-8, he plays much bigger, catching passes over taller cornerbacks — a truly dynamic playmaker.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
▪ Nick Bosa, Aquinas: Nick is the prototype at defensive end. The five-star senior is one of the most complete players nationally at his position. He has drawn comparisons to his All-American brother Joey, with some predicting he will be even better than his sibling. It was no surprise earlier this summer when he followed Joey and committed to Ohio State.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. St. Thomas Aquinas; 2. Fort Lauderdale; 3. Blanche Ely.
Aug. 28: Booker T. Washington at Aquinas; Sept. 4: Miramar at Aquinas; Sept. 25: Aquinas at Hallandale; Oct. 2: Ely at Fort Lauderdale; Nov. 6: Flanagan at Aquinas.