When a program with a storied state championship history and a coach who has won multiple state championships come together, it has the potential to be a perfect marriage and produce more state history.
That’s the idea Southridge is aiming for with the hiring of Miami-Dade County coaching legend Billy Rolle, who has won state titles with Killian and Northwestern. Only he and Central coach Roland Smith have accomplished that feat in Dade.
The Spartans weren’t expected by many outside of their own locker room to come out of District 16-8A with a playoff berth last year, but they did by bumping defending state champion South Dade.
Now with a lot of its young talent returning, Rolle has the foundation in place to look to expand.
The first mission for Rolle was to keep his athletes home at Southridge. In years past, the Spartans were losing players to surrounding schools every time a coaching change occurred, going from Patrick Burrows to Lamont Green to Don McKnight and now Rolle since 2011.
“Every time they turned around it was like they were playing some kids from Southridge — been there for two or three years and then left,” Rolle says. “I think that was the AD’s first priority — to bring somebody in that could keep the kids, as well as have a successful season and bring the program back to respectability.”
Player retention is up under Rolle, and he has even scored some transfers, including senior cornerback and Nebraska commit Dicaprio Bootle. Rolle coached his older brother at Killian.
The hope for Rolle is to develop his current underclassmen into senior leaders in years to come for a serious state title push, but he feels the seniors he has currently adopted have fared well in that respect.
“We call them true Spartans. They stuck it in,” Rolle says. “The seniors this year went through all three of the coaches, and they stayed and hung in there. I made those guys the captains from Day One.”
Most of Southridge’s experience comes at receiver with seniors Freddie Pinder and Malik Spatcher and juniors Kemore Gamble and Rodney Scott — Gamble already a UM commit.
Throwing to those receivers, the Spartans will continue to rotate quarterbacks like they did last season with Drakar Jerry and Shawn Chandler. Jerry is more of the true pocket passer , and Chandler is the dual-threat athlete who can be used in Wildcat formations and will be active on special teams.
The strength of the defense is in the secondary, led by newcomer Bootle. Junior Billy Gibson also has a Nebraska offer.
District 16-8A always draws comparisons to some of the tougher divisions in other levels of football. Rolle sees likeness in the SEC. Killian coach Cory Johnson, the Pittsburgh Steelers fan that he is, calls it the AFC North.
If that’s the case, Southridge, South Dade and Killian are the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals. Although there are ways for all three of those NFL teams to make the playoffs, only two can get in out of each district in high school.
When all its teams are at the top of their game, there’s no question to the comparisons, but even on down years, formidable playoff-implicating matchups develop throughout the season to determine who survives the district schedule and who is left out.
SOUTH DADE AIMING FOR RETURN TO PLAYOFFS
Last season it was the defending Class 8A champion in 2013, South Dade, that was on the outside looking in by season’s end. The Buccaneers are coming into 2015 with a greater focus on honing in on the finer details.
“I think by us having the success that we had, getting that opportunity, wanting to embrace it again and coming up short, the one thing I told this team going into 2015 is that it’s just the little things that we need to work on,” coach Nate Hudson says. “I think the biggest thing is handling that success. Obviously you get that pat on the back and you tend to lose your focus.”
A team leader who has emerged is cornerback James Wiggins, now a senior and a UM commit who is a dynamic playmaker on both sides of the ball.
“I think from Day One when he came onto this campus, he’s been everything we’ve expected — super athlete, and having that opportunity during our championship year, he was still one of our elite guys that we counted on,” Hudson says.
Wiggins isn’t the only senior who gained championship experience as a sophomore. Senior middle linebacker Wyatt Swanson has exhibited vocal leadership in the middle of the defense.
Boman Swanson will anchor the offensive line along with junior and Marshall commit Kyron Taylor. Defensive tackle Mike Davis gets the push up front to set the tone for the entire unit.
South Dade needed a quarterback and picked up Sunset transfer Ludavic Saintvil. Ivan Smith and Jawon Hamilton form one of the more formidable combinations at running back in Miami-Dade County.
LIFE AFTER JAQUAN
The major challenge for Killian in 2015 will be to break through without Jaquan Johnson, a four-year first-team All-Dade selection now playing safety at UM in the same secondary as his former high school teammate, cornerback Sheldrick Redwine.
“There wouldn’t be coaching if every year we had guys of the likes of Jaquan Johnson and Sheldrick Redwine. Then you have coaches taking too much credit for what they do,” Killian coach Cory Johnson said. “It’s going to show our ability to coach when we have a bunch of kids that nobody’s talking about and nobody’s thinking about, and in a year or two, they’ll be like, ‘Hey, who’s this kid?’ He’ll be a household name.
“We’re going to have a new group of kids to look forward to.”
Defensive tackle Raekwon Adderly, “a terror in the middle,” according to Cory Johnson, will be a bright spot and a leader for the Cougars defense.
Junior defensive back Juwan Horn is ready to take the next step after starting in the same secondary as Jaquan Johnson and Redwine as a sophomore.
Antwan Collier, who accounted for 25 total touchdowns as a sophomore at quarterback, will expand his role into also playing wide receiver and defensive back.
Junior running back Bentavious Thompson, a UM commit, will only continue to grow.
With just five starters returning, Killian will rely on several new contributors. Cory Johnson likes what he has seen out of junior linebacker Romelo Brooks and sophomore corners Traquan Butler and Daquris Wiggins. Butler draws comparisons to former Cougar and current Louisville Cardinal Trumaine Washington, and Wiggins already has a UM offer.
▪ Homestead enters the district after coming over from District 16-6A, where the Broncos would have to face the likes of Central, Northwestern, Carol City and Norland. Its annual neighborhood rivalry game against South Dade will mean a little more.
▪ Palmetto athlete Malik Bell is returning this season from a torn ACL in Week 5 last season. He projects as a solid physical corner at the next level and is receiving interest from schools in Power Five football conferences.
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
▪ Kemore Gamble, Southridge: It’s close between him and the man flanking the opposite side in senior Freddie Pinder. The two big-bodied receivers will give opponents nightmares in the red zone. Gamble, a 2017 four-star prospect is already a UM commit and has several other prime offers.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
▪ James Wiggins, South Dade: Playing both sides of the ball, Wiggins possesses the ball skills in single coverage at cornerback to not just bat balls away but go up and create turnovers by intercepting passes in those one-on-one situations. He will contribute in multiple ways and is committed to the Hurricanes.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. South Dade; 2. Southridge; 3. Killian; 4. Homestead; 5. Palmetto.
Oct. 1: Homestead vs. Palmetto (Southridge); Oct. 2: Southridge vs. South Dade (Harris); Oct. 9: Killian at Southridge; Oct. 15: South Dade vs. Killian (Southridge); Oct. 29: Killian vs. Palmetto (Tropical); Oct. 30: South Dade vs. Homestead (Harris).